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K-State Today

June 24, 2016

A 'Fitbit' for plants? Researchers create a low-cost, portable platform to gauge plant health

Submitted by Haley Ahlers

K-State researchers have developed a tool called the Phenocart to capture essential plant health data. It measures plant vital signs like growth rate and color, the same way a Fitbit monitors human health signals like blood pressure and physical activity.

In a field experiment with thousands of plots, the Phenocart is a quick and portable way to evaluate plant health. It also can help plant breeders design larger experiments.

"Larger sample size gives you more power," said Jesse Poland, assistant professor of plant pathology and agronomy. "Measuring phenotypes is very labor-intensive, and really limits how big of an experiment we can do."

The new tool will allow for faster measurements and accelerate the breeding process. The Phenocart also can be outfitted with different sensors depending on what the scientists want to measure, including a sensor to measure how "green" their plants were, Poland said.

"The measure of vegetation index or 'green-ness' is really the easiest and more straightforward way to measure the overall health status of the plant." Poland said.

Read more about the Phenocart online.