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Positron Emission Tomography in Agriculture and Life: PET for the study of wheat growth in biotic and abiotic stress

Central to food security is the production of cereals to meet the needs of an increasing population and the demand for animal feed and biofuels. One of its challenges is climate change, which causes abiotic and biotic stress in cereals, affecting growth and yield. Using positron emission tomography, the EU-funded PETAL project will measure the early changes of CO2 metabolism and water transport caused by stress in wheat. The project’s work will result in a unique data set that will be analysed to define a new set of measurable quantities affected by stress at the early stage of plant development. Following this, a platform providing services for the early analysis of wheat growth in agriculture will be generated.


The growth and yield of major cereals represents one of the key issues in food security, due to the abiotic andbiotic stress caused by climate change and desertification. PETAL proposes to measure the early changes of CO2 metabolism and water transport induced by stress in wheat using Positron Emission Tomography (PET). Novel functional imaging data correction andanalysis models are developed in order to have a quantitative interpretation of the PET images of wheat obtained with the RAYCAN digital E180 preclinical PET/CT scanner, the MOLECUBES beta- PET/CT preclinical scanner, a dedicated digital portable plant PET system and a portable Table-Top PET/ MRI scanner.

Functional imaging data, conventional morphological and proteomics data and CT root images willbe collected at each stage of growth of the wheat under defined stress condition and after biostimulant treatment.This unprecedented unique dataset will be analyzed using new High-Performance Computing approaches,in order to define a new set of measurable quantities, which are affected by stress at the early stage of the plant development. On this basis, the PETAL consortium will generate a SME/academic platform providing servicesfor wheat growth early analysis in agriculture. PETAL builds on the cross-disciplinary expertise of the partners in physics, technology, biology,agronomy, ecology, computing and software systems.

Researchers involved in the 38 secondments will participate to the validation of PET as imaging technique for plants, to thedevelopment ofnovel PET data analysis algorithms and technologies, to the data collection and analysis. They will be trained in new technologies, experimental techniques in agriculture, data analysis, and algorithm implementation, in order to establish a multi- disciplinary working chain train personnel, and therefore prepare the sustainability of the project proposal. To complete the training offer, 3-montly webinars and yearly workshops are organized.