One of the grand scientific challenges of our times is to understand how organisms in the biosphere can adapt to climate change. How does the information encoded in a genome express under different environmental conditions? The ENVIRATRON project is a phenomics platform that enables researchers to monitor the performance of plants throughout their lifespan when subject to a variety of environmental conditions, including anticipated future environments. The ENVIRATRON will permit researchers to incrementally alter critical variables to better simulate changing conditions that we face in the future.

ENVIRATRON is different

Find out why

The ENVIRATRON will be used to analyze the performance of plants under multiple differing environmental conditions – Most phenomics research has been two-dimensional -- looking at various attributes or traits in different taxa or genotypes under a single environmental condition. This project adds an extra dimension to the exploration of phenotype space: performance under different environmental conditions. The ENVIRATRON will be able to control a number of variables including temperature, day length, light intensity, humidity, CO2 levels and water potential in the soil and will be able to simulate current climatic conditions in different areas of the world and future climatic scenarios.

Plant environments are maintained, even during data acquisition – The ENVIRATRON consists of an array of plant growth chambers to create different environmental conditions. Unlike commercial plant phenomics systems, plants will not be conveyed out of the growth chambers to monitor their growth performance, rather a rover with a robotically controlled arm will periodically visit each chamber to image and analyze the plants. In addition to more standard RGB, florescence, near IR and IR imaging, sensors on the rover will be capable of imaging and conducting analyses not available on commercial systems such as hyperspectral and holographic imaging and Raman spectroscopy. The robot-assisted sensing approach will enable precise location-specific data acquisition, resulting in improved sampling strategies and data quality.

Who benefits?

ENVIRATRON: An important research and training tool for

Scientists: The ENVIRATRON is of great value to climate change research, enabling plant scientists to predict the performance of plants under different environmental conditions. To date most research on the performance of plants under different environmental conditions has been conducted under limited conditions, such as unstressed and stressed conditions. The ENVIRATRON will permit users to incrementally alter critical variables to better simulate changing conditions that we face in the future.

Students conducting research in the plant sciences, environmental sciences, and engineering. The project specifically engages students from underrepresented minorities because the project supports two ISU George Washington Carver Summer Outreach Program interns each year.

The public at large, farmers, and other visitors can better appreciate and understand of agricultural research by visiting the ENVIRATRON. Seeing how different environments affect plant growth and productivity clearly demonstrates the need for environmental research as well as research that seeks to develop crops that thrive in future environmental conditions


News Announcements

NSF Award Announcement: Development of an ENVIRATRON - an accelerator for climate change research - PDF

Iowa State University researchers turn to robotics to improve understanding of plant growth - PDF