We describe the design, characterization, and use of "programmable", sterile growth environments for individual (or small sets of) plants. The specific relative humidities and nutrient availability experienced by the plant is established (RH between 15% and 95%; nutrient concentration as desired) during the setup of the growth environment, which takes about 5 minutes and < 1$ in disposable cost. These systems maintain these environmental parameters constant for at least 14 days with minimal intervention (one minute every two days). The design is composed entirely of off-the-shelf components (e.g., LEGO1 bricks) and is characterized by (i) a separation of root and shoot environment (which is physiologically relevant and facilitates imposing specific conditions on the root system, e.g., darkness), (ii) the development of the root system on a flat surface, where the root enjoys constant contact with nutrient solution and air, (iii) a compatibility with root phenotyping. We demonstrate phenotyping by characterizing root systems of Brassica rapa plants growing in different relative humidities (55%, 75%, and 95%). While most phenotypes were found to be sensitive to these environmental changes, a phenotype tightly associated with root system topology-the size distribution of the areas encircled by roots-appeared to be remarkably and counter-intuitively insensitive to humidity changes. These setups combine many of the advantages of hydroponics conditions (e.g., root phenotyping, complete control over nutrient composition, scalability) and soil conditions (e.g., aeration of roots, shading of roots), while being comparable in cost and setup time to Magenta (R) boxes.
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