Researchers pioneer transparent growing media, opening window on nutrient management

A team of researchers from the James Hutton Institute and the University of Abertay Dundee has developed a transparent growing medium which enables real-time analysis of the roots of growing plants.

Dr Lionel Dupuy, a theoretical biologist in the Ecological Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute, said: "With this new technique, scientists now have a way to observe soil processes, live and in situ. This is exciting because there are so many things to discover in soil and we don’t know yet what they are."

It has taken Dupuy and his colleagues two years to develop the medium, which is based on Nafion, a soluble synthetic composite used in fuel cells. It is said to closely resemble soil in its water retention and ability to hold nutrients.

"Physiologists could also use transparent soils to understand how plants or microbes access nutrients that are heterogeneously distributed in soil, while soil ecologists could make microcosm experiments where interactions between different species can be observed," Dupuy added.

The team will now focus on refining the material and lowering its cost to end users.


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