Mariam Awlia, Arianna Nigro, Jiri Fajkus, Sandra Schmockel, Sonia Negrao, Diana Santelia, Martin Trtilek, Mark Tester, Magdalena M. Julkowska and Klara Panzarova. High-throughput non-destructive phenotyping of traits that contribute to salinity tolerance in Arabidopsis thaliana. Frontiers in Plant Science. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2016.01414
Reproducible and efficient high-throughput phenotyping approaches, combined with advances in genome sequencing, are facilitating the discovery of genes affecting plant performance. Salinity tolerance is a desirable trait that can be achieved through breeding, where most have aimed at selecting for plants that perform effective ion exclusion from the shoots. To determine overall plant performance under salt stress, it is helpful to investigate several plant traits collectively in one experimental setup. Hence, we developed a quantitative phenotyping protocol using a high-throughput phenotyping system, with RGB and chlorophyll fluorescence imaging, which captures the growth, morphology, color and photosynthetic performance of Arabidopsis thaliana plants in response to salt stress. We optimized our salt treatment by controlling the soil-water content prior to introducing salt stress. We investigated these traits over time in two accessions in soil at 150, 100 or 50 mM NaCl to find that the plants subjected to 100 mM NaCl showed the most prominent responses in the absence of symptoms of severe stress. In these plants, salt stress induced significant changes in rosette area and morphology, but less prominent changes in rosette coloring and photosystem II efficiency. Clustering of chlorophyll fluorescence traits with plant growth of nine accessions maintained at 100 mM NaCl revealed that in the early stage of salt stress, salinity tolerance correlated with non-photochemical quenching processes and during the later stage, plant performance correlated with quantum yield. This integrative approach allows the simultaneous analysis of several phenotypic traits. In combination with various genetic resources, the phenotyping protocol described here is expected to increase our understanding of plant performance and stress responses, ultimately identifying genes that improve plant performance in salt stress conditions.