At first, the back room of plant physiologist Edgar Spalding's lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison might be mistaken for an alien space...
At first, the back room of plant physiologist Edgar Spalding's lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison might be mistaken for an alien space ship set straight out of a Hollywood movie. It's a room bathed in low-red light with camera lenses pointing at strange looking entities encased in Petri dishes.
A closer inspection reveals the Petri dishes contain nothing alien at all, but rather very down-to-earth corn seedlings. They're grown in red light for optimal growth. They're just one of the plants featured in thousands of time-lapse movies Spalding has created over the past five years. The goal: figure out how to grow crops optimally suited to survive, and thrive.
"We can't hope to improve a plant unless we understand it well," says Spalding. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Spalding is exploring just what makes plants tick. He says the key is to study the function of each of the thousands of genes that make up the plants' DNA. "One way to do that is to collect images of those plants that have those genes altered in some way. And by measuring how those plants grow and develop differently," says Spalding.