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Synchronous high-resolution phenotyping of leaf and root growth in Nicotiana tabacum over 24-h periods with GROWMAP-plant

Tom Ruts1*, Shizue Matsubara1 and Achim Walter12

Author Affiliations

1 Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, IBG-2: Plant Sciences, Jülich, Germany

2 ETH Zürich, Institute for Agricultural Sciences, Zürich, Switzerland

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Plant Methods 2013, 9:2  doi:10.1186/1746-4811-9-2

Published: 23 January 2013



Root growth is highly responsive to temporal changes in the environment. On the contrary, diel (24 h) leaf expansion in dicot plants is governed by endogenous control and therefore its temporal pattern does not strictly follow diel changes in the environment. Nevertheless, root and shoot are connected with each other through resource partitioning and changing environments for one organ could affect growth of the other organ, and hence overall plant growth.


We developed a new technique, GROWMAP-plant, to monitor growth processes synchronously in leaf and root of the same plant with a high resolution over the diel period. This allowed us to quantify treatment effects on the growth rates of the treated and non-treated organ and the possible interaction between them. We subjected the root system of Nicotiana tabacum seedlings to three different conditions: constant darkness at 22°C (control), constant darkness at 10°C (root cooling), and 12 h/12 h light–dark cycles at 22°C (root illumination). In all treatments the shoot was kept under the same 12 h/12 h light–dark cycles at 22°C. Root growth rates were found to be constant when the root-zone environment was kept constant, although the root cooling treatment significantly reduced root growth. Root velocity was decreased after light-on and light-off events of the root illumination treatment, resulting in diel root growth rhythmicity. Despite these changes in root growth, leaf growth was not affected substantially by the root-zone treatments, persistently showing up to three times higher nocturnal growth than diurnal growth.


GROWMAP-plant allows detailed synchronous growth phenotyping of leaf and root in the same plant. Root growth was very responsive to the root cooling and root illumination, while these treatments altered neither relative growth rate nor diel growth pattern in the seedling leaf. Our results that were obtained simultaneously in growing leaves and roots of the same plants corroborate the high sensitivity of root growth to the environment and the contrasting robustness of diel growth patterns in dicot leaves. Further, they also underpin the importance to carefully control the experimental conditions for root growth analysis to avoid or/and minimize artificial complications.

Growth; Phenotyping; Diel; Diurnal; Temperature; Leaf; Shoot; Root; Nicotiana tabacum; Circadian