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Quick Tech News


by Alexander Fäh

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3D Printing Revolutionizes Crop Breeding

  • New technologies like laser scanning and 3D printing enable detailed plant models.

  • These models are reproducible and suitable for field use.

  • Freely available printing files facilitate international research and cost-effective applications.


Laser Scanning and 3D Printing Create Detailed Model of a Sugar Beet Plant

A recently published research report demonstrates how modern technologies like laser scanning and 3D printing can be utilized in 21st-century crop breeding. Researchers have created a detailed 3D model of a sugar beet plant, capturing essential characteristics of the above-ground parts of the plant, which can be used in AI-assisted improvement processes.

These innovative sugar beet models are reproducible and suitable for field use. The data, methods, and 3D printing files are freely available, allowing scientists worldwide to create accurate copies of the reference model, enhancing the comparability of research results. The model and its validation were published in the journal GigaScience.

Modern crop breeding is a data-driven enterprise that uses machine learning algorithms and advanced imaging technologies to select desirable traits. "Plant phenotyping"—the science of gathering precise information and measurements on plants—has made significant advancements in recent years.

Previously, these measurements were taken manually, which was labor-intensive. Today, they are increasingly automated and supported by artificial intelligence. Automated systems can capture complex information about plants that would be challenging for humans to gather. A crucial aspect of this sensor-driven crop breeding is the availability of precise reference materials.

The new 3D-printed sugar beet models were created with these applications in mind. They offer the additional advantage that the printing files are available for free download and reuse. This allows cost-effective adaptation of the technology in resource-poor settings, such as developing countries.

To gather precise data for the realistic model, the authors—Jonas Bömer and colleagues from the Institute of Sugar Beet Research (Göttingen) and the University of Bonn—used LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology. A real sugar beet plant was scanned by a laser from 12 different angles. After processing, the data was sent to a commercial-grade 3D printer to create the full-size model. The model was then tested in the lab and the field.

Jonas Bömer explains, "In the field of three-dimensional plant phenotyping, referencing the utilized sensor systems, computer algorithms, and captured morphological parameters represents a challenging yet fundamentally important task. The application of additive manufacturing technologies to create reproducible reference models presents a novel opportunity to develop standardized methodologies for objective and precise referencing."

This approach is, of course, not limited to sugar beets. The study demonstrates how combining artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and sensor technology can contribute to future crop breeding, helping to feed the world's population with healthy, delicious crops.


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