From academic institutions to government agencies, research groups around the world recognize the growing need to see beyond specialized research topics to the wider scope of their application across multiple disciplines: to redefine problems outside of their normal boundaries and find solutions based on a new understanding of complex situations.

Put another way, complex problems call for complex solutions.

A fundamental understanding of this approach is inherent in plant phenomics, a field that combines biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, phenotypic analysis and data collection and management.

Collecting and analyzing phenomic data has historically been a time-consuming, expensive, labor intensive and often destructive process. However, with the advent of key technological advancements, particularly related to sensors and data handling, plant breeders are now better able than ever before, to collect, translate, and interpret, large amounts of data. In turn, this information advances genetic predictions related to high-yielding crops, and their subsequent production at lower cost and with smaller labor investment.

Facing the dual impacts of climate change and rising global food demand, it is imperative that plant biologists, together with mathematicians, computer scientists and engineers, continue to adapt existing and emerging technologies to advance crop production. Taking a systems approach requires tangential thinking. Together, academics, farmers and government agencies must collaborate, using often unconventional methods to solve conventional problems. This approach will be the key to tackling issues crucial to human survival on our growing, warming planet.

While the idea of working in the center of a Venn diagram makes perfect sense for complex issues, it isn’t without its challenges. Consider issues like proximity, communication, and education: how do we connect experts from varied subject areas? How do we arrive at—and facilitate—a common language to frame the big questions? And finally, how do we share the knowledge we gain with others?

Phenome 2019 is more than up to the challenge of answering these questions, bringing together key innovators in the phenomics space to share their expertise.

Or, as Dr. Nathan Springer, McKnight Presidential Endowed Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of Minnesota and member of the Phenome 2019 steering committee, puts it so well:

“This is the meeting designed to bring together plant biologists, computer scientists and engineers to discuss interdisciplinary approaches to understanding plant phenotype. New tools are providing opportunities to improve our understanding of genotype-phenotype relationships and how plants respond to environmental challenges. This meeting is a place to hear about these new tools and to participate in cutting edge phenomics research.”

Our panel of plenary speakers illustrates the depth and breadth of this approach, and its appeal to scientists in a variety of specialized fields.

Malcolm Bennett, for example, is a champion of the systems approach to problem solving. As a professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Nottingham—studying regulatory signals, genes and mechanisms behind root growth and development—he has recently built a multidisciplinary team to develop X-ray based microCT techniques to non-invasively image root responses. Check out his talk, “Uncovering the hidden half of plant growth and development using root phenotyping” in Session II, on Thursday, Feb. 7th at 11 AM.

Melba Crawford, Professor of Agronomy, Civil Engineering and Electrical & Computer Engineering at Purdue University, founded an interdisciplinary research and applications development program in space-based and airborne remote sensing at the University of Texas Center for Space Research. She currently leads the Laboratory for Applications of Remote Sensing at Purdue University, focusing on data and image analysis. In addition, she is the Director of the Laboratory for Applications of Remote Sensing (LARS), and her lab is part of the Geomatics Engineering group which designs, develops, and operates systems for collecting, analyzing, and utilizing geospatial information about the land, infrastructure, the oceans, natural resources, and the environment. Her talk will be part of Session I, Thursday, Feb. 7th at 8:45 AM.

Liang Dong, and his lab for MEMS and biochips in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University, is developing microsensor technology with a view to multi-field applications, from biomedicine to crop sciences. He and his team are creating smart, inexpensive microsensors, biochips, and power devices for a vast array of applications, as well as novel, low-cost nanotechnology for sensors, integrated microfluidic devices biosensors and instrumentation for large-scale, high-throughput, high resolution assay for whole organisms. His talk will be part of Session VI, Saturday Feb. 9th at 11 AM.

Natalia de Leon, Professor of Agronomy at the University of Wisconsin, studies plant breeding and quantitative genetics, the interface of plant breeding and quantitative and molecular genetics and the combination of different sources of genetic information such as phenotypic, genotypic and expression data. Her team collaborates with the Genomes to Fields initiative, the focus of one of our workshops this year. Her talk will be part of Session IV, Friday Feb. 8th at 8:30 AM.

And finally, for Pawel Krajewski, Professor at the Institute of Plant Genetics, Polish Academy of Sciences, the importance of Phenome 2019 is best summed up in his own words:

“As a scientist with a mathematical background, I am interested in various statistical and information processing methods that are useful for plant research. In collaboration with a number of European partners, my group has been working on the challenges in annotation and standardization of data in experiments involving plants related to a proper description of biological material, environmental conditions, experimental designs and measured traits. The talk at Phenome 2019 will be a unique opportunity to share our experience on these topics and to gather comments useful for further work.”

Set your alarm for his talk, “MIAPPE: current developments and applications” at 8:30 AM on Saturday, Feb. 9th, in Session V, featuring the community-driven tool “Minimum Information About a Plant Phenotyping Experiment (MIAPPE)”.

Welcome to the future. Welcome to Phenome 2019.

Post written by Michelle Woodvine for Plant Editors/Peridot Scientific Communications.