NPECNetherlands Plant Eco-phenotyping Centre


Prof. Mark Aarts
Droevendaalsesteeg 1, 6708 PB Wageningen
Utrecht University

The mission of the Netherlands Plant Eco-phenotyping Centre (NPEC) is to provide plant scientists with an excellent, state-of-the-art facility to measure plant performance as a function of the environment, with the ultimate aim to enable ground-breaking research and fundamental insights into improving crop yield and sustainability. NPEC will enable accurate, high-throughput studies of plant performance in relation to relevant biotic (with pathogens and plant-beneficial organisms) and abiotic (light quantity and quality, nutrients, temperature, moisture, soil pH and atmospheric CO2 level) factors from the molecular level through to field-level phenotyping. This will facilitate the development of the novel adaptive crops and cropping systems required for future food production and food security without destroying our planet.

NPEC is one integrated national facility. Our phenotyping facilities are yet being developed and constructed and will be housed across two locations close to each other: Wageningen and Utrecht. NPEC comprises six complementary, experimental modules.
1. The NPEC ME module supports highly accurate experimental manipulation in order to understand the genetic basis of plant responses to environmental factors such as light quantity and quality, temperature, humidity and atmospheric composition. The module consists of 15 small (6 m2) climate chambers for experimental designs with independent replication of environmental conditions. Clusters of three climate chambers with temperature range (-5° to +40°C), humidity (35-90%) and light conditions (a PAR of at least 1500 μmol/m2/s with full daylight-spectrum LEDs). All chambers have the ability to increase CO2 levels, with 3 to be able to reduce CO2 levels to pre-industrial levels (200 ppm).
2. The NPEC Ecotron module consists of 16 state-of-the-art, fully closed and controlled mesocosm systems that allow for real-life plant (agro-)ecosystem analyses, to examine plant performance and traits, system mass balance and belowground processes under field-like conditions. It will allow for highly controlled experimental manipulation of plant competition and real-time measurements of plant community development. Plant responses to abiotic stress factors do not manifest themselves in isolation, but are modulated also by neighbours and belowground interactions.
3. The NPEC PMI module provides novel high-throughput experimental systems for detailed spatial-temporal studies of plant-microbe interactions. These will include two robotic systems for high-throughput phenotyping of plant-microbe interactions for: 1. agar-based phenotyping, that will primarily focus on root architecture and root responses; 2. phenotyping the shoots of soil-grown plants and the responses of the leaves to colonization by beneficial and pathogenic microorganisms. Both systems will specialize in fluorescence imaging in order to localize and quantify multiple fluorescently-tagged microorganisms and marker genes simultaneously. The module will also be fitted with equipment for real-time in situ metabolome analysis to enable quantification and identification of metabolites produced by plants and their associated microbes.
4. The High-Throughput Phenotyping climate chamber module (HTP) allows for automated, high-throughput screening of plant genotypes in five climate rooms under highly controlled environmental conditions. In two rooms, cameras and sensors are mounted on a robotic arm with full XYZ motion capability to allow for automated sensor-to-plant measurements. One additional room is dedicated to photosynthesis research, and one will hold a rhizotron for root phenotyping. Phenotyping includes imaging in the visible light spectrum, fluorescence imaging, thermal imaging (infrared, IR), near infrared (NIR) imaging, hyperspectral reflectance imaging and 3D-imaging
5. In the GreenHouse phenotyping (GH) module, integrated whole-plant phenotyping will be carried out, for various crops, from seedling to harvest in a dedicated modern greenhouse, which houses three complementary platforms: a plant-to-sensor conveyor system, a sensor-to-plant gantry system with several scanning sensors moving over plants on tables and an autonomous mobile device that brings sensors to full grown crops in the greenhouse.
6. The Open-Field phenotyping (OF) module provides an outdoor mobile drone- and vehicle-based phenotyping system to study individual plants in small plots or large fields. The open-field module consists of two, easily transportable, (semi) autonomous four-wheeled vehicles and three UAVs, all equipped with state-of-the-art sensors, and associated garaging facilities. All elements of the module can be rapidly and cheaply transported to different fields and testing sites.

Aansluiting bij strategische ontwikkelingen
Agri & Food
Smart industry
Circulaire economie en grondstoffenefficiëntie: duurzame circulaire impact
Duurzame productie van gezond en veilig voedsel
Kwaliteit van de omgeving