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Automated TERRA Phenotyping System

Texas A&M University
Automated TERRA Phenotyping System for Genetic Improvement of Energy Crops
TERRA TAMU
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$3,212,999
Location: 
College Station, TX
Project Term: 
10/01/2015 to 10/31/2018
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
TERRA project teams will integrate the agriculture, information technology, and engineering communities to design and apply new tools to the development of improved varieties of energy sorghum, a crop used to produce biofuel. Producing the large amounts of biomass needed for biofuels to displace petroleum requires significant improvements to the productivity and efficiency of biofuel crops. The teams will enhance methods for crop phenotyping (identifying and measuring the physical characteristics of plants), which are currently time-intensive and imprecise. The new approaches will include automated methods for observing and recording characteristics of plants and advanced algorithms for analyzing data and predicting plant growth potential. These innovations will accelerate the annual yield gains of traditional plant breeding and support the discovery of new crop traits that improve water productivity and nutrient use efficiency.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Texas A&M University, along with Carnegie Melon University (CMU), will develop a rugged robotic system to measure characteristics of sorghum in the field. Traditionally this type of data collection is performed manually and often can only be collected when the crop is harvested. The team from CMU will create an automated gantry system with a plunging sensor arm to characterize individual plants in the field. The sensor arm of the gantry system allows the team to collect data not only from above, but to descend into the canopy and take measurements within. The team will utilize machine learning algorithms to interpret the field data and correlate them to plant phenotypes, molecular markers, and genes of interest linked to the field phenotypes. TAMU will incorporate this technology into its world class sorghum breeding program to increase the rate of genetic improvement.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, the Texas A&M team will help develop new and improved sorghum varieties for commercialization.
Security: 
Improved biofuel crops could lead to increased production of domestic biofuels, reducing dependence on foreign sources of transportation fuels.
Environment: 
The genetic improvement achieved through this project could increase the use of biofuels and help significantly reduce CO2 emissions from transportation, and improved varieties of biofuel crops could use less water and be more resistant to environmental stress.
Economy: 
Advanced crop and breeding techniques could improve and lower the cost of developing high yielding and high quality crop hybrids for biofuels and other agricultural applications.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Joe Cornelius
Project Contact: 
Dr. William Rooney
Partners
Carnegie Mellon University
Release Date: 
6/18/2015