Transparent soil. Cool.

Transparent soil I tend to dis­cour­age stu­dents from using the term “cool” if formal sci­entific writ­ing, but if I had to sum this paper up in one word, it would be .… cool.


Transparent Soil for Imaging the Rhizosphere. (2012) PLoS ONE 7(9): e44276. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044276
Understanding of soil pro­cesses is essen­tial for address­ing the global issues of food secur­ity, dis­ease trans­mis­sion and cli­mate change. However, tech­niques for observing soil bio­logy are lack­ing. We present a het­ero­gen­eous, por­ous, trans­par­ent sub­strate for in situ 3D ima­ging of liv­ing plants and root-associated microor­gan­isms using particles of the trans­par­ent poly­mer, Nafion, and a solu­tion with match­ing optical prop­er­ties. Minerals and fluor­es­cent dyes were adsorbed onto the Nafion particles for nutri­ent sup­ply and ima­ging of pore size and geo­metry. Plant growth in trans­par­ent soil was sim­ilar to that in soil. We imaged col­on­iz­a­tion of lettuce roots by the human bac­terial patho­gen Escherichia coli O157:H7 show­ing micro-colony devel­op­ment. Micro-colonies may con­trib­ute to bac­terial sur­vival in soil. Transparent soil has applic­a­tions in root bio­logy, crop genet­ics and soil microbiology.

AJ Cann. ORCID 0000-0002-9014-3720

Alan Cann is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester and formerly Internet Consulting Editor for AoB.