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Methods and Technologies at the
Jülich Plant Phenotyping Centre


Positron Emission Tomography (PET)/Plant Tomographic Imaging System

PET is a modality that allows detection and three dimensional (3D) mapping of positron emitting radionuclides in an object. One of these radionuclides is the short-lived (half-life time 20min) carbon isotope 11C which can be administered to a plant as 11CO2 and is the main radiotracer used in our experiments. The 11CO2 is fixed by photosynthetic dark reactions leading to radiolabeled photoassimilates. Flow and distribution of 11C-labelled photoassimilates within a plant can then be noninvasively imaged using the PET technology. Long-distance carbon transport in plants is largely bound to the phloem which is deeply embedded in the plant body. The conducting cells (sieve elements or sieve cells) are under high pressure and sensitive to manipulation. Functional traits of phloem transport can therefore hardly be accessed with invasive techniques. PET offers unique opportunities to follow spatial and temporal distribution of radiotracers in a plant, e.g. during development or in responses to stress. Currently, two plant dedicated PET systems are, or will come, in operation at IBG-2, PlanTIS and phenoPET.

PlanTIS (Plant Tomographic Imaging System) is a custom built instrument based on ClearPET technology. It is suited for small samples with a maximum field-of-view (FOV) of around 65mm in diameter and a height of 100mm and has been in operation since 2008. For details see Jahnke et al. (2009) and Beer et al. (2010).

phenoPET is also a custom built instrument that includes last generation digital photon counter (DPC) technology (Streun et al., 2014). It is currently set up and expected to be fully operational in 2016. The system will provide a field-of-view (FOV) of around 180mm in diameter and 190mm in height and will have much higher detection sensitivity than PlanTIS. We therefore expect that phenoPET will contribute to the many plant phenotyping approaches at IBG-2 but only for low throughput applications. The development of the system is a cooperation between three institutes at Forschungszentrum Juelich (ZEA-2: Electronic Systems, ZEA-1: Engineering and Technology and IBG-2: Plant Sciences) and Philips Digital Photon Counting, Aachen, Germany. The work is supported by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) within the German-Plant-Phenotyping Network (DPPN).
Beer, S., Streun, M., Hombach, T., Buehler, J., Jahnke, S., Khodaverdi, M., et al. (2010). Design and initial performance of PlanTIS: a high-resolution positron emission tomograph for plants. Physics in Medicine and Biology 55, 635-646. doi: 10.1088/0031-9155/55/3/006.
Jahnke, S., Menzel, M.I., Van Dusschoten, D., Roeb, G.W., Bühler, J., Minwuyelet, S., et al. (2009). Combined MRI-PET dissects dynamic changes in plant structures and functions. Plant Journal 59, 634-644. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-313X.2009.03888.x.
Streun, M., Degenhardt, C., Dorscheid, R., Erven, A., Reinartz, S., Jokhovets, L., et al. (2014). phenoPET: A dedicated PET Scanner for Plant Research based on digital SiPMs. IEEE Medical Imaging Conference.

For assigning PET signal to individual roots or structures within belowground organs it is routinely co-registered with stationary NMR. In the images below the gray scale represents the NMR imaging (MRI) and the color scale the PET signal.

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 Jülich Plant Phenotyping Centre




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plant Enabling Technologies 


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  • Robert Koller

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