Cost-saving technology for seed research

April 09, 2010
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April 9, 2010, Wageningen, the Netherlands – Scientists from the Plant Sciences Group of Wageningen UR have developed a system for the automated evaluation of the germination capacity of large quantities of seed samples.

Start of the germination of a seed of Arabidopsis, seen through a microscope. PHOTO COURTESY WAGENINGEN UR

Details of the system, called the ‘Germinator,’ have been published in the scientific journal The Plant Journal. Germinator uses image analysis among other methods and was initially intended for the research of thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) seeds. The system is available free of charge to laboratories that carry out major research into plant seeds, including inspection authorities, universities, research institutes and seed companies. All will save a great deal of time and money thanks to Germinator.

Ronny Joosen, scientist at the Plant Physiology chair group of the Plant Sciences Group, is one of the developers of the Germinator system and the principal author of the article in The Plant Journal. “Germinator is an intelligent combination of three elements,” Joosen explains. “Firstly, it involves designing the test and creating the administration required for the research to ensure that the samples are studied in sufficient repeats and ‘at random.’ Germinator then uses image analysis to determine the un-germinated seeds in a fast and reliable way. Unlike other systems, Germinator does not require precise positioning of the seeds and this flexibility means the system can be used effectively in large-scale experiments. Thirdly, the system rapidly calculates hundreds of germination curves, allowing for the comparison of the germination characteristics of large numbers of seed samples.” 

Germination capacity is a very important characteristic of plant seeds. Seeds that do not germinate sufficiently affect the initial phase of the crop, which eventually results in lower yields or a lower yield quality. The germination percentage of seeds is so vital that seed batches can be rejected because of it. Rejected seed batches represent an enormous loss for seed companies.

The research group that developed Germinator studies the genetic background of seed quality using thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), among other species. Thale cress is a model plant that is often used for biological research. However, seeds of thale cress are very small and the challenge of manually counting the germination has prevented it from being deployed in large-scale experiments. The development of Germinator means this time-consuming and mind-numbing process is a thing of the past and many seed laboratories have already started using the system.

In addition to thale cress, Germinator is also being used to evaluate rapeseed germination and it is expected the system will be suitable for many more plant species. Calculating germination curves is a separate module and thus applicable to all plant species.

The scientists have also used Germinator in their own research, including a successful study into the natural variation of saline tolerance in the germination of thale cress seeds. “This study proved that by using Germinator a single person could easily evaluate thousands of germination tests in one day,” says Joosen. “Now we can finally start focusing on some very large-scale experiments.”

More information is available at


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