Brazil - The biomechanics and biophotonics of plant health and development

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Biological Sciences


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.


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Description It is too early to comprehensively summarise what we have found. We can however currently report that we have discovered that the initiation of germination in a seed can be measured by the start of tiny vibrations. We have not published this result yet as we are still gathering evidence "around" this phenomenon, aiming at further understanding its cause. The vibrations are structured, they do resemble random thermal fluctuations. We are now seeking further explanations as to how they vary in time, and how they are related to germination and seed health. As we were also working with coffee, a slow germinating bean, we do realise that there is potential impact to help the process of selection in germination. Another aspect of our research is to measure the light (electromagnetic component of seed activity) that is emitted by seeds as they grow. This light is very faint and requires some very sensitive electronic detectors, similar to those employed in astronomy research to detect neutrinos passing through the earth. When applied to seeds, such detectors betray the presence of rhythmic photon emissions in young seeds and seedlings... something rather surprising. We are now looking into putting vibrations and light emission in relation with each other, to see whether these two quantities, vibrations and light are two expressions of the same phenomenon, or not. We have currently extended our study organisms to other species, including bryophytes and Arabidopsis. Despite it importance in biological research, the latter is very challenging because of its small size, and the very little light that it emits.
Exploitation Route It is too early to say - but perhaps the agronomy industry, or research community could use simplified aspects of these techniques to evaluate seed health. It would useful for seed banks, as they would know with perhaps an increased certainty that the seed they elect to store are in fact going to germinate.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Creative Economy,Education,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Title Finite element modelling - Multiphysics modelling 
Description This method is standard within the engineering and physics community. It is increasingly used in the life sciences, as software is becoming available and amenable to the complexity of biological systems. Also, a large portion of accessibility is due to the power of modern desktop computers. 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - non-mammalian in vivo 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The method has impacted on our capacity to model the complex interaction of organisms with their physical environment. This aspect - that we call Physical Ecology - is expanding and is poised to touch many realms of life Sciences. For us the impact has been significant as the model predictions have allowed us to better understand the sensory ecology of the organisms we study, mostly insects, but also plants. 
Title Laser Doppler vibrometry applied to plant samples 
Description This is a new application of the technology, applied to measuring small vibrations on plant samples. - namely seeds, and seedlings. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2008 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Our research has now established that vibrations at the level of picometers (10 to the minus 12) can be measured on seeds and seedlings. The full impact is not realisable yet, but we have good evidence to say that it may be useful to measuring the viability of any individual seed. Could have impact in agriculture, if made practical and cheap a technique. Now it is expensive and a rather specialised technique. 
Title Photo Multiplier tube 
Description This technique has been around for a while and in its most expanded form is used to detect neutrinos crossing the earth. Here, we apply a much reduce, cheaper and simpler version to measure the photons emitted by plant material. As a plant grows it emits photons (in fact every thing does when disturbed mechanically). We are measuring photon emissions in conjunction with growth of seeds and seedlings. Only a few labs have been doing so, and we have good reason to think that this technique is very promising, in tandem with laser Doppler techniques as well. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2010 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Health monitoring in seeds, detection of gravitational variation in plants. 
Description C. Gallep - UNICAMP Sao Paulo 
Organisation State University of Campinas
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The partnership is between Prof Cristiano Gallep from Sao Paulo UNICAMP, an expert in biophotonics and ultraslow photo emissions in biological material. Our contribution is towards the development of a novel approach in assessing the function of photonics emissions, marrying photon detection (Gallep) to nano mechanics (Robert). In brief, simultaneous measurements using photon detectors (PMT) and laser Doppler vibrometry, AFM and KPFM, will be used to establish causation and correlations between physiological processes and biophotons and vibrations. We contribute time and expertise. The partnership benefits from reciprocity complementarity, as the respective expertises are at first sight unlikely yet find a use and "raison d'être" in a common question and hypothesis setting. This partnership is funded by a Royal Society Newton Exchange programme (finished) and a BBSRC UK-Brazil partnership award (ongoing).
Collaborator Contribution Partners are contributing time and expertise in biophotonics, in the context of the home department of electrical engineering in Limeira/Sao Paulo. See above for more details of reciprocal benefits
Impact Collaboration is multidisciplinary, involving engineering and biology; more precisely electrical engineering, optical telecommunication engineering, sensory biophysics, nano mechanics, botanics, crop science and insect science.
Start Year 2017
Description Circadian biology - T. Moraes/Stitt 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute Golm
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Provide research question and rational to revisit circadian entrainment in view of luni/solar cycles
Collaborator Contribution Phenomenological and genetic analysis of circadian activity - time resolved analysis of plant activity.
Impact none yet
Start Year 2017
Description Electro-Photonics - M. Cifra 
Organisation Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Country Czech Republic 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution Contribution research questions and techniques to measure local electrical potentials and charges on biological surfaces.
Collaborator Contribution Contribution to developing technique to asses the physiological dynamics of electrosensitive bio-surfaces, using photons. Access to cellular level mechanisms of electro photonic effects.
Impact none so far in terms of publications - in prep
Start Year 2016
Description Professor Jo Gottsman 
Organisation University of Bristol
Department School of Earth Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Broadening the realm of influence of circadian rhythms to plants/organisms
Collaborator Contribution Measurements of tidal forcing.
Impact Not any outputs yet.
Start Year 2019
Description Open Days UCAS 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Recruitment of students

Recruiting quality students and provide them with the motivation that our institution is the one where to learn biology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007
Description Open days at UoB 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The goal of this activity is mostly about presentation of the department and recruitment of new students. This activity in of national reach, occasionally international. The results are encapsulated in the recruitment of new students who decide to come to Bristol for their University education.

Notable impacts are that on a regular basis, students, often my tutees, let me know that they came to visit Bristol and visited my lab during open days or UCAS days, and decided to come to Bristol. One outcome, which is very satisfactory, is that visitors are inspired and "fired up" by the acquisition of knowledge during our interactions, and more importantly, use this fire as a motivation to learn and discover more about the world through studies at University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2011,2012,2013
Description Scientific Cafe 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The presentation sparkle many question and discussions on the role of bees in the environment, our society. the role of insects, and why shall we bother to study them, their hearing? How is the scientific method suitable in getting us the knowledge we need to develop a better society for all?

The impacts are multiple, as for the other activities listed in the survey/report, but one of them specific to this activity is the engagement of local people at a local cultural center, linking the University and its scientists to the public in the context of a relaxed and informal forum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014