VOC-SCREEN Platform

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) play a central role in plant defence, stress mitigation and the communication of plants with their biotic environment.  Emissions of VOCs are highly variable in time, emission pattern and plant organ within and between species making them ideal non-invasive markers for phenotyping of plant-microbe/herbivore interactions.

Within the German Plant Phenotyping Network DPPN we have developed the VOC-SCREEN platform. On this platform the emission and uptake of VOCs and photosynthetic gas exchange of up to 24 plants can be continuously analysed. The platform is typically installed in one of our in-house phytotron chambers ExpoSCREEN, which allow simulating specific ambient conditions such as irradiation intensity, air temperature, relative humidity, and trace gas concentrations. In each cuvette temperature, rel. humidity, soil temperature, soil moisture, and the concentration of CO2 and water vapour are recorded continuously. Moreover, different instruments such as a NOx sensor and a Proton Transfer Reaction Time of Flight Mass Spectrometer (PTR-ToF-MS) are connected to the outlets of the cuvettes, sequentially sampling gas probes from individual cuvettes.

From the CO2 and water vapour concentrations in the air entering and leaving the cuvettes the net CO2 assimilation and evapotranspiration rates of the plants are determined.

PTR-ToF-MS measurements allow the online monitoring of VOC emissions and/or deposition during the interaction of plants with microbes or insects, or following abiotic stress. Trapping of VOCs on absorption tubes for GC-MS analysis enables the structural annotation of VOC emission patterns. Measurement of NO, an important volatile signalling compound, completes the suit of on-line analyses. With this set of sensors the overall ‘volatilome’ of plants can be recorded linking genotypic variation (G) to environmentally (E) and stress-induced (e.g. microbes, M) phenotypic variations (G x E x M).

Selected Publications

Niederbacher B, Winkler JB, Schnitzler JP (2015): Volatile organic compounds as non-invasive markers for plant phenotyping. Journal of Experimental Botany 66: 5403-5416

Jud W, Vanzo EM, Li Z, Ghirardo A, Zimmer I, Sharkey TD, Hansel A, Schnitzler JP (2016): Effects of heat and drought spells on post illumination bursts of volatile organic compounds in isoprene emitting and non-emitting poplar.
Plant Cell & Environment 39: 1204-1215

Jud W, Winkler JB, Niederbacher B, Niederbacher S, Schnitzler JP (2018): Volatilomics – a non-invasive technique for screening plant traits. Plant Methods 14, 109 .

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