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Root length and diameter measurement using NIH Image: application of the line-intercept principle for diameter estimation

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The objective of this study was to develop an image analysis algorithm for estimating the length versus diameter distribution of washed root samples. Image analysis was performed using a Macintosh computer and the public domain NIH Image program. After an appropriate binary image of roots was obtained, the image was processed to get the thinned image to calculate the length of the roots. The edge pixel of the binary image was then deleted and root length was calculated again. This `edge deletion–length calculation' cycle was repeated until no root pixel was left in the image. Repeated edge deletion removed one pixel layer from around the periphery of root objects in each iteration. The number of edge deletions, which is equivalent to the intercept length, can be used to estimate the root diameter. We used the vertical or horizontal intercept length, whichever was shorter. The accuracy of diameter estimation due to orientation of objects varied from 89.1 to 126.0%. Branching root systems consist of several orders of laterals, and as the root branches to a higher order, the diameter of the roots becomes smaller. Therefore, edge deletions eliminate sequentially from the highest order roots, which have the smallest diameter, to the lowest order roots, which have the widest diameter. Thus, the length and diameter of each root order can be calculated by the proposed method. For verification, images of copper wire of 0.23, 0.50, and 1.0 mm diameter were analyzed. The results showed reasonable agreement with the expected distribution of length versus diameter for randomly oriented objects, and consequently the wire length of each diameter could be estimated. The proposed method was tested for primary and secondary roots of water-cultured rice (Oryza sativa L.), and it was proven that the method can provide accurate length and diameter measurements for each root order.

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Kimura, K., Yamasaki, S. Root length and diameter measurement using NIH Image: application of the line-intercept principle for diameter estimation. Plant and Soil 234, 37–46 (2001).

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