EGU General Assembly 2020
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Visualisation and quantification of wheat root system architecture and soil moisture distribution in an aggregated soil using neutron computed tomography

Tinashe Mawodza1,2, Manoj Menon1, Stuart Casson2, and Genoveva Burca3
Tinashe Mawodza et al.
  • 1Sheffield University, Geography, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (
  • 2Sheffield University, Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Sheffield, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • 3Science and Technology Facilities Council,IMAT facility, Harwell, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Sustainably intensifying global crop production in a world of diminishing natural resources is paramount for the attainment of zero hunger worldwide (a United Nations sustainable development goal). Key to this sustainable intensification is a deep understanding of the dynamics and complexities of plant-soil interactions for optimisation of plant productivity. Neutron computed radiography and tomography are powerful, non-invasive tools that enable the characterisation of plant-soil systems in situ. They also enable the visualisation and quantification of water distribution and movement within plant-soils systems. In this novel study, we use high resolution neutron computed tomography to investigate root system architectural differences in two different genotypes (Wild type vs TaEPF1-OE1-water use efficient mutant line) of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum). We further investigated how wheat roots interact with the heterogeneously distributed soil moisture. For this investigation, plants were grown in an aggregated sandy loamy soil with moderate amounts of organic matter (4%) for 13 days prior to imaging. We were able to produce a detailed three dimensional visualisation of the root architectural distribution of the two different genotypes imaged. These did not show significant differences between the two genotypes under investigation. We were also able to visualise relative soil moisture distribution and made inferences to how the roots of the wheat plants under investigation interact with the heterogeneously distributed soil moisture. Our results showed increased lateral root growth in regions with finer soil aggregates that had an estimated lower moisture content as compared to larger soil aggregates that retained higher amounts of moisture. This study demonstrates that detailed investigations into plant-soil interactions using neutron imaging techniques can be done successfully even in aggregated soils with considerable amounts of organic matter. This is a departure from the majority of neutron imaging experiments that predominantly use disaggregated sand soils devoid of organic matter as a growth medium.

How to cite: Mawodza, T., Menon, M., Casson, S., and Burca, G.: Visualisation and quantification of wheat root system architecture and soil moisture distribution in an aggregated soil using neutron computed tomography, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-1196,, 2019

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Presentation version 2 – uploaded on 04 May 2020
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  • CC1: Comment on EGU2020-1196, Paul Hallett, 05 May 2020

    Nice work.  What was the watering regime during plant growth?  Do you think results would be different if you looked at progressively drier samples towards drought?  Thanks Paul

    • AC1: Growth conditions and response to drought, Tinashe Mawodza, 05 May 2020

      Thanks Paul. The plants were well watered (kept at field capacity) throughout the experiment up until a few days before imaging when the soil was allowed to partially dry to enhance root-soil contrast. Further experiments conducted with the same plants under drought also did not reveal any significant differences in root architecture between water use mutant and the wild type.

  • CC2: Comment on EGU2020-1196, Chandra Widyananda Winardhi, 05 May 2020

    Hi, thank you for sharing. What is the optimum density range, when using the Neutron Tomography?

    Also can the Neutron Tomography measure the water content inside the root?

    Thank you.

    • AC2: Reply to CC2, Tinashe Mawodza, 06 May 2020

      Hi Chandra

      Thanks for your comment. When using neutrons we did not take into consideration density but cross sectional area of soil, which had to be less than 2cm for neutrons to pass through. Yes estimations of water content within roots can be inferred from neutron images as neutrons are highly attenuated by the hydrogen atoms which are nucleon dense.

      Best regards

Presentation version 1 – uploaded on 04 May 2020 , no comments