New PhotosynQ Related Publication

Check out the new publication in the American Journal of Plant Sciences, using the MultispeQ and PhotosynQ Platform (10.4236/ajps.2017.84050)

Response of Cowpea Genotypes to Drought Stress in Uganda

Saul Eric Mwale, Mildred Ochwo-Ssemakula, Kassim Sadik, Esther Achola, Valentor Okul, Paul Gibson, Richard Edema, Wales Singini, Patrick Rubaihayo

Moisture stress is a challenge to cowpea production in the drought prone areas of eastern and north eastern Uganda, with yield losses of up to 50% reported. Genotypes grown by farmers are not drought tolerant. This study was therefore, undertaken at Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo to identify cowpea genotypes tolerant to drought. Thirty cowpea accessions comprising of Ugandan landraces and released varieties, Brazilian lines, Makerere University breeding lines, elite IITA germplasm and seven IITA drought tolerant lines as checks were screened for drought tolerance at vegetative and reproductive stages. The experiment was designed as a 2 × 37 factorial and laid out in a split-plot arrangement, 37 genotypes of cowpea at two soil moisture stress levels (T1, no stress and T2, severe stress) with all factorial combinations replicated two times in a screen house. The genotypes showed considerable variability in tolerance to drought. Genotypes were significantly different for chlorophyll content (P ≤ 0.01), efficiency of photosystem II (P ≤ 0.05), non-photochemical quenching (P ≤ 0.05), recovery (P ≤ 0.01), delayed leaf senescence (P ≤ 0.01), grain yield (P ≤ 0.01), 100 seed weight (P ≤ 0.05), number of pods per plant and number of seeds per pod (P ≤ 0.001). There was a highly significant positive correlation between chlorophyll content and efficiency of photosystem II (r = 0.75, P ≤ 0.001) implying that chlorophyll content and efficiency of photosystem II could be used as efficient reference indicators in the selection of drought tolerant genotypes. Genotypes SECOW 5T, SECOW 3B, SECOW 4W, WC 30 and MU 24 C gave relatively high yields under stress and no stress conditions, maintained above mean chlorophyll content, efficiency of photosystem II and had good recovery scores from stress and thus were tolerant to drought stress induced at both vegetative and reproductive stages.

More PhotosynQ related publications are available here

Building Strong Research Collaborations

If you have ever visited the PhotosynQ webpage (you’re reading the PhotosynQ blog, so I’ll assume you have), you know that the banner across our homepage reads “Truly Collaborative Plant Research.”

We have always aspired to making PhotosynQ a flexible platform to accommodate many forms of collaboration. For example, we hope the open nature of PhotosynQ data combined with built-in discussion tools will foster communication and collaboration between researchers across the globe.

I recently returned from Uganda, where I conducted some training workshops and (hopefully) established a long-term collaboration between PhotosynQ and the Makerere University Regional Centre for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI). Before my trip, MaRCCI had a few MultispeQ devices, a few students had used PhotosynQ, and they have even published a few papers. However, until now, there has been little direct communication between MaRCCI and PhotosynQ.

After spending 2 days together, learning how to create robust projects and collect, analyze and interpret quality photosynthesis data, we hope to develop a much stronger collaboration.

MaRCCI pic for blog

What does ‘stronger’ collaboration mean?

MaRCCI already has access to PhotosynQ’s low-cost, cutting edge phenotyping technologies and platform for data storage, visualization and management. Building a stronger collaboration means giving MaRCCI students and faculty the opportunity to work directly with the PhotosynQ team to analyze the links between complex photosynthesis phenotypes and crop outcomes (this requires sharing of outcome data such as yield, disease resistance, etc). It also brings MaRCCI into the PhotosynQ development workflow. So, as we continue to work on automating advanced analytical tools like multivariate analysis, prediction and QTL mapping we will work closely with MaRCCI students and faculty to make sure that what we are developing will solve their problems.

On the flip side, collaboration with MaRCCI offers PhotosynQ some great benefits. MaRCCI recently received support from the World Bank as an “African Higher Education Centre of Excellence” in plant breeding and related activities. This means that they are positioned to be a hub of plant breeding training for breeding programs throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They receive Masters and PhD students from 20 different countries, and while I was there I met students from Benin, Burundi and Tanzania, just to name a few. Such a diverse group of students allows us to disseminate PhotosynQ technology over a wide geographical area, and have much greater impact.

The end result, we hope, will be a long-term partnership that improves the education and capacity of young plant breeders across Africa and helps PhotosynQ continue to evolve as an advanced phenotyping platform.

Personally, I look forward to continuing the work with a great institution with enthusiastic students and faculty.



New PhotosynQ Related Publication

Check out the new publication in Photosynthesis Research, using the MultispeQ and PhotosynQ Platform (10.1007/s11120-017-0449-9)

Faster photosynthetic induction in tobacco by expressing cyanobacterial flavodiiron proteins in chloroplasts

Rodrigo GómezNéstor Carrillo, María P. Morelli, Suresh Tula, Fahimeh Shahinnia, Mohammad-Reza Hajirezaei, Anabella F. Lodeyro

Plants grown in the field experience sharp changes in irradiation due to shading effects caused by clouds, other leaves, etc. The excess of absorbed light energy is dissipated by a number of mechanisms including cyclic electron transport, photorespiration, and Mehler-type reactions. This protection is essential for survival but decreases photosynthetic efficiency. All phototrophs except angiosperms harbor flavodiiron proteins (Flvs) which relieve the excess of excitation energy on the photosynthetic electron transport chain by reducing oxygen directly to water. Introduction of cyanobacterial Flv1/Flv3 in tobacco chloroplasts resulted in transgenic plants that showed similar photosynthetic performance under steady-state illumination, but displayed faster recovery of various photosynthetic parameters, including electron transport and non-photochemical quenching during dark–light transitions. They also kept the electron transport chain in a more oxidized state and enhanced the proton motive force of dark-adapted leaves. The results indicate that, by acting as electron sinks during light transitions, Flvs contribute to increase photosynthesis protection and efficiency under changing environmental conditions as those found by plants in the field.

More PhotosynQ related publications are available here

Intelligent Information Technologies in Education and Science – Ukraine


On October 18, 2017, the Interdisciplinary Workshop on the dissemination of knowledge on “Intellectual Information Technologies in Education and Science” took place at the Faculty of Chemistry and Biology of the Ternopil National Pedagogical University (TNPU).

The co-organizers of this event were Andriy and Natalia Hertz, employees of the Department of General Biology and Methodology of Natural Sciences Teaching and the Department of Botany and Zoology (Faculty of Chemistry and Biology of TNPU).

According to the program, a demonstration of the possibilities of IT solutions in biological, educational and pedagogical research took place. 

In particular, the on-line PhotosynQ platform was presented as a web tool for an integrated assessment of the physiological state of plants. 

Information was disseminated on how the MultispeQ can measure, collect and analyze photosynthesis data in field and laboratory conditions.

The focus was on the openness and flexibility of the PhotosynQ platform and the development of educational tools through it, and more.

The students and faculty all wished to have the opportunity to work with MultispeQ and PhotosynQ and to evaluate the condition of plants for themselves.

More Info [English] | More Info [Original]

PhotosynQ measures more than just plants: A history of our forays into measuring soils

Over the past several years there has been quite a bit of interest in measuring soil properties, which makes sense given that most of the plants we care about grow in soil. In response to that interest, we have developed numerous PhotosynQ prototypes, protocols and macros to measure soils over the past two years.

We started by using the MultispeQ to measure soil active C using potassium permanganate. This method used a cuvette to measure a color change in solution. The problem with using colorimetry, however, is that it requires users to do wet chemistry in the field. We would rather avoid that.

Another approach was to measure in situ C mineralization as an indicator of soil health. We have built multiple iterations of in situ soil C chambers (below). In general, the results from these chambers were positive, but there were a few drawbacks. One is that the results were highly dependent on soil moisture content and temperature. Therefore, we would need to collect a lot of data at different moisture and temperature conditions to account for these variations, much like we need to collect photosynthesis data at multiple light intensities to account for the effect of light on Phi2, PhiNPQ and PhiNO. The second problem is that the prototypes were quite clunky, and generated a lot of funny looks around campus when they were half-buried with random wires hanging out. If enough people were interested in using the in situ chambers, we could make a few mechanical changes to make them look less like an IED.

Soil chambers

Going back to the drawing board, we brainstormed different ideas to simply assess soil health without having to take a lot of measurements or have multiple devices. This led us to develop a simple tool for measuring soil C mineralized from a sealed container. Using a “24-hour C mineralization burst” we can control for different temperature and moisture conditions by first air-drying, and then rewetting soil samples in quart jars. Then we use a syringe to sample headspace in the jar and inject it into a pass-through CO2 sensor.

C min

The technology is pretty simple, just a CO2 sensor connected to a microcontroller, loaded with PhotosynQ firmware. To demonstrate our new SoilspeQ, we worked with a professor at MSU and took soil samples from a field where she was testing the effect of cover cropping on soil quality and maize productivity.  We took many samples from different areas including soil that had mixed cover crops, soils without cover crops and some soil from the bare ground bordering the field plots. We also collected the soil from 1-5 cm and 5-10 cm deep, so we could see if there were differences between them. Check out the results here.

Our final approach to measuring soils is still in its early stages, but we are looking forward to see where it goes. We have teamed up with a professor at Colorado State University to develop microfluidics cards. The goal is to use reagent embedded cards to reduce in field wet chemistry and accurately measure key soil properties. We then use the MultispeQ or a version of the CoralspeQ to measure the color change. Our initial test, using Al3+ in solution at different concentrations is shown below.  

Al Fig

PhotosynQ Focus: Sonya Lawrence

Focusing on how the community is using PhotosynQ technologies. This month we are highlighting Sonya Lawrence, an Instructor in the Biological Sciences Program at MSU who has been incorporating PhotosynQ into her courses since 2014

As the first summer term came to an end, I headed over to North Kedzie Hall to check out the research posters being displayed by BS 172 students. This year marks three years that Sonya Michaud Lawrence, an instructor in Michigan State University’s Biological Sciences Program, has been using PhotosynQ as an educational tool in her lab classes.

Sonya was one of the first MultispeQ beta testers, beginning way back in the fall of 2014. Sonya uses PhotosynQ has a tool to help students learn the scientific method. Groups of students develop a hypothesis, design an experiment, use PhotosynQ to collect data and then use that data to test their hypothesis and learn statistical methods. Common research questions for her students include comparing how different species, canopy density, cardinal direction, time of day or proximity to fruit affects the photosynthetic efficiency of leaves.

Since Sonya’s first class project, her students have created more than 50 PhotosynQ projects and contributed tens of thousands of measurements. If you want to check out her students work, go the Discover tab on, scroll down to the Education section and select see all. Chances are those project were created by her students.

Sonya blog image2

BS 172 student collecting PhotosynQ data on campus with the MultispeQ beta (left). Luke Weaver, Megan Campbell, and teammates present their findings at the BS 172 poster session (right).

As I meandered from poster to poster, talking to the students, a couple of themes kept popping up. Quite a few students mentioned that their results did not match their hypothesis. That’s ok! Happens in science all the time! Other students were impressed by how PhotosynQ made data collection easy, and by the amount of data they could collect in a short period of time. There were a few technical issues–with a couple old beta MultispeQ’s not working properly and measurements with the new MultispeQ’s taking too long because students were not familiar with the open-close start function. But overall, these students had a very different experience from those first brave students, back in the early beta testing days, when the software was still being developed and bugs frequently caused frustrations.

If you are wandering across MSU’s campus in the summer or fall and see students armed with MultispeQ’s and android phones, chances are they are Sonya’s students.


PhotosynQ at Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab (LIL) Conference in Burkina Faso August 13-18, 2017

Following the PhotosynQ Workshop (see Dan’s post), we had moved to the LIL conference site at Laico Ouaga 2000, a high security hotel/conference venue outside of Ouagadougou city.  “Feed the Future” is a program funded by USAID under the US government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative.  This program has been engaging many universities, institutions and private organizations in the US, Africa and Central/South America to improve the quality and management of legume, and contributing to the well-beings of local people. Michigan State University ( is one of the leading institutions contributing researches and new technologies to the world.

One of the designated official languages being French, we had a simultaneous translation through headphone at this conference. The last time when I had to use French in daily basis was almost 20 years ago. Listening to the scientific talks was manageable, but my speaking ability was quite embarrassing. Another challenge was internet connectivity. As Dan mentioned, we had to manage the workshop with almost no internet connection. We were hoping to have a better connection at this best hotel in Burkina Faso, but unfortunately, it seemed the system could not handle a large traffic at once. The conference participants expressed that they had never experienced this in the past anywhere in Africa. It seems it was an isolated incidence, but we came up with some better solutions for the future.

  PhotosynQ booth (From right: Dan, Frank and Atsuko)

 Presentation by Dr. Irvin Widders, Director of Legume Innovation Lab, MSU. PhotosynQ was mentioned as one of the highlights of the ‘Feed the Future’ program.

At the last LIL conference held at Livingston, Zambia, Dave Kramer and Dan TerAvest presented the PhotosynQ project using MultispeQ Beta. This year in Burkina Faso, not only the people from Kramer Lab (Dave, Dan, Donghee Hoh, Isaac Osei-Bonsu and me), but also our PhotosynQ collaborators (Dr. Isaac Dramadri in Uganda, Dr. James Kelly with Dr. Jesse Traub and Dr. Wayne Loescher of MSU, and Dr. Kelvin Kamfwa of U of Zambia) presented more detailed and sophisticated data showing the correlations among photosynthesis, plant responses and gene expressions. It was very encouraging for us to see more people started thinking that the PhotosynQ platform and hand-held devices are useful and practical to the broad applications.

We are very excited about the new challenges, collaborations and long-lasting friendships. And we all hope to see you again!