Plant research institutes depend greatly on controlled environment facilities for most of their projects. Shared facilities include glasshouses and controlled environment rooms which are high in demand. After consulting with research project leaders, we propose that development of an open low-cost bench-top controlled environment chamber can address this high demand and be of great benefit for plant synthetic biology and plant research worldwide. The incorporation of “speed-breeding” capability (growing plants under near continuous photoperiod) will prove useful for fast generation cycling. A device with these characteristics can be achieved with low-cost microcontrollers like Arduino and/or Raspberry Pi, and low-cost sensors and modules. To achieve this, an interdisciplinary team was assembled with a wide range of skills (i.e. bioinformatics, plant science, synthetic biology, and architecture). The output of this project will be open source.
Limited glasshouse and controlled environment space is one of the principal constraints for running plant science experiments. The crop generation cycling demand is increasing as we adopt new and fast plant synthetic biology approaches (e.g. crop transformation, CRISPR). For high throughput methods, large walk-in controlled environment rooms are needed, but some research projects can benefit for smaller scale approaches. Especially for research groups that are venturing into new genome editing approaches.
A useful technique that is being adopted across breeding programs and genome editing approaches that rely on fast plant generation, is speed-breeding. This technique uses long photoperiods of high quality and high intensity light, in combinations with specific temperature and humidity, to accelerate plant development for research purposes.
We propose to develop a lab-scale controlled environment chamber that satisfies the required parameters for speed-breeding to allow the growth of small numbers of explants for crop transformation, and crossing programs. The aims are:
- To engineer an ergonomically accessible chamber for the laboratory environment.
- Develop an array of LED capable of producing the quality and intensity of light needed for speed-breeding.
- Create a cooling/heating system using Thermoelectric Cooler (TEC) modules and heat sinks to precisely control the internal temperature.
- Incorporate an automatic watering system with soil moisture probes and a solenoid valve to provide precise irrigation throughout the crop's cycle and avoid water stress.
- Develop the software to integrate and control each individual subsystem (i.e. light, temperature, humidity, irrigation).
- Create a low-cost open-source product that can potentially benefit research institutes worldwide.
The main outcome will be openly available easy-to-follow instructions on how to build the chamber system. This will include a downloadable working software made available via OpenPlant's GitHub repository. We aim to produce a scientific publication comparing the developed tool against commercially available controlled environment chambers.