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Plant scientists create 'see-through' soil

Oct. 1, 2012 at 5:54 PM

DUNDEE, Scotland, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Researchers in Scotland say they have developed a see-through soil that will enable scientists to study roots in detail for the first time.

The underground world of plant roots is called the rhizosphere and scientists at the University of Abertay Dundee and the James Hutton institute, writing in the journal PLos ONE, say creation of the new transparent soil marks a research milestone that will have applications in many different areas.

The artificial soil that becomes translucent when saturated with a special water-based solution is a substrate very similar to real soil in terms of physical and biological variables, researchers said.

The soil is a synthetic composite utilizing Nafion, often used in power-generating fuel cells, and replicates natural soil chemistry, they said.

"There are many different scientific disciplines that could benefit from this research," Hutton researcher Lionel Dupuy said. "Transparent soils could be used to study the spread and transmission of soil borne pathogens.

"In crop genetics, transparent soils could be used to screen the root systems of a range of genotypes. This would help breed crops with more efficient root systems so that agriculture can rely less on fertilizers."

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