Larimer, C. J., E. H. Denis, J. D. Suter, and J. J. Moran. 2020. Optical coherence tomography imaging of plant root growth in soil. Applied Optics 59:2474-2481.
Complex interactions between roots and soil provide the nutrients and physical support required for robust plant growth. Yet, visualizing the root–soil interface is challenged by soil’s opaque scattering characteristics. Herein, we describe methods for using optical coherence tomography (OCT) to provide non-destructive 3D and cross-sectional root imaging not available with traditional bright-field microscopy. OCT is regularly used for bioimaging, especially in ophthalmology, where it can detect retinal abnormalities. Prior use of OCT in plant biology has focused on surface defects of above-ground tissues, predominantly in food crops. Our results show OCT is also viable for detailed, in situ study of living plant roots. Using OCT for direct observations of root growth in soil can help elucidate key interactions between root morphology and various components of the soil environment including soil structure, microbial communities, and nutrient patches. Better understanding of these interactions can guide efforts to improve plant nutrient acquisition from soil to increase agricultural efficiency as well as better understand drivers of plant growth in natural systems.
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