Seed World

Firefly Protein Enables Visualization of Roots in Soil

This is a composite image of a growing experimental mustard plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, along with a luminescence-based image of the root system of the same plant.

A new imaging tool from a team led by California’s Carnegie Institution for Science allows researchers to study the dynamic growth of root systems in soil, and to uncover the molecular signaling pathways that control such growth.
The team’s imaging system is called GLO-Roots (for Growth and Luminescence Observatory for Roots). It is an integrated platform for growing plants in soil in custom-built vessels, imaging roots using bioluminescence, and analyzing root growth, architecture and gene expression. The system involves the genetic engineering of plants to produce an enzyme from fireflies called luciferase, which causes them to glow in the dark of the soil. Light-sensitive cameras then detect the light emitted by the roots and allow researchers to discriminate between the roots and the surrounding soil.
The team’s findings may be particularly important for understanding how plants survive during droughts. The GLO-Roots system enabled researchers to track growth rate and direction of dozens of root tips simultaneously and relate this to the amount of water present in the soil surrounding the roots.
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