Czech scientists are world leaders in microscopic examination of plants

Growing alfalfa root detected using light-sheet fluorescence microscopy
Author: Miroslav Ovečka
thursday 13. september 2018, 13:51 – Text: Martina Šaradínová

(Olomouc) – Researchers from the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH) at Palacký University Olomouc, together with colleagues from the University of Nottingham and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology in Dresden, have made another significant step in exploring plant structure and development using light sheet fluorescence microscopy. From the traditional model plant – Arabidopsis thaliana – they advanced to a much larger alfalfa, which can be observed in its natural state for up to several days. Their methods have been summarised in an article for the prestigious journal Nature Plants. In the future, they intend to use it for other crops, especially barley. The obtained information is crucial, for example, for increasing plant yields or resistance to adverse environmental conditions, including drought or disease.

The stepping stones of this research were detailed protocols for long-term and gentle exploration of plants at high-resolution using commercially available laser microscopes, which CRH scientists published three years ago in Nature Protocols, attracting considerable interest in the scientific community. Subsequently, researchers have decided to develop and modify the technique for long-term and gentle exploration of plants so that they can capture objects larger than Arabidopsis, such as alfalfa embryos and plants developing from them.

“We have succeeded in further improvement of the only method that can be used to visualise living plants at different levels – from intracellular to entire plants. The fact that we have advanced to alfalfa from Arabidopsis is a great milestone. We can watch a plant’s development over several hours to several days. We can also observe its interactions with external environments and microbes in defined and strictly controlled conditions. We will get much better explanations to a range of biological and biotechnological questions,” said Jozef Šamaj, head of Olomouc research group.

According to his colleague and a co-author Miroslav Ovečka, the transfer of the method from the model plant to alfalfa was technically quite complex. “We use a commercially available microscopic system, so we had to take into account its technical parameters. It was important to prepare conditions for long-term plant cultivation. The plant in the microscope receives fresh nutrients in a sterile environment, is supplied with air and exposed to the normal light/dark illumination cycle. The results are not affected by secondary stress caused by microscopy itself. The significant shift in the scientific field brought about by this method lies in the fact that there has not yet been a system approach that would evaluate alfalfa at such a level. We have also described technological difficulties that other research groups often face, and suggested a way how this progressive method could be used for developmental studies for any types of plant subjects. Also from this point of view, the article is unique, as we are presenting new perspectives to the scientific community based on obtained results,” explained Ovečka.

Olomouc scientists intend to continue to improve the methodology and adapt it for possible use for barley within the project “Plants as a means of sustainable global development” under the Operational Program for Research, Development and Education. Thanks to their paper in the prestigious journal, they will be able to present the progress in this technique and its possible applications in plant research at even more conferences and professional seminars. CRH brings together scientific teams from Palacký University and Olomouc worksites of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, and the Crop Research Institute of the Czech Ministry of Agriculture.

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Jozef Šamaj

Professor of Botany                              

CRH | Palacký University Olomouc

Slechtitelu 27 | 78371 Olomouc | Czech Republic

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