Gel observation chamber for rapid screening of root traits in cereal seedlings


A simple gel chamber is described for measurement of seedling root traits. Seedlings are located between two closely spaced flat layers of transparent gel, on plastic plates (at least one of which is transparent). Root system traits can be non-destructively recorded in two-dimensions using a flatbed scanner. Easily measured rooting traits include root length, elongation rate, longest root, deepest root, seminal root number, and angular spread of roots. Examples of wild, landrace, and cultivated barleys were grown in the gel chambers, between gel layers or in loosely packed soil. Root growth on the gel plates was similar to that in loose soil, with the cultivated barley having the most seminal axes (about 7), and widest angular spread of roots (about 120 °), and wild barley the fewest seminal axes (about 3), and narrowest angular spread of roots (about 40 °). Landrace barley lines tested were intermediate between wild barley and modern cultivars. Separate experiments were performed to study the effect of grain mass and grain size on these rooting traits. These experiments included parents of genetic mapping populations. Seminal root number was most strongly dependent on grain mass in the modern cultivar Chime. Grain size significantly influenced root number in the modern cultivar Derkado, the breeding line B83-12/21/5, and a selection from a landrace Tadmor, suggesting that grain size should be controlled in any screening exercise.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bengough A G, Castrignano A, Pages L and Van Noordwijk M 2000 Sampling strategies, scaling, and statistics. InRoot methods: A handbook. Eds. A Smit, A G Bengough, C Engels, M Van Noordwijk, S Pellerin and S Van de Geijn. pp. 147-173. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Futsaether C M and Oxaal U 2002 A growth chamber for idealized studies of seedling root growth dynamics and structure. Plant Soil 246, 221-230.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Gahoonia T S, Nielsen N E, Joshi P A and Jahoor A 2001 A root hairless barley mutant for elucidating genetic of root hairs and phosphorus uptake. Plant Soil 235, 211-219.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ge Z Y, Rubio G and Lynch J P 2000 The importance of root gravitropism for inter-root competition and phosphorus acquisition efficiency: Results from a geometric simulation model. Plant Soil 218, 159-171.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Grando S and Ceccarelli S 1995 Seminal root morphology and coleoptile length in wild (Hordeum vulgaressp spontaneum) and cultivated (Hordeum vulgaressp vulgare) barley. Euphytica 86, 73-80.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Lawlor D W 1970 Absorbtion of polyethylene glycols by plants and their effects on plant growth. New Phytol. 69, 501-513.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Liao H, Rubio G, Yan X L, Cao A Q, Brown K M and Lynch J P 2001 Effect of phosphorus availability on basal root shallowness in common bean. Plant Soil 232, 69-79.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Materechera S A, Dexter A R and Alston A M 1991 Penetration of very strong soils by seedling roots of different plant species. Plant Soil 135, 31-41.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Monteith J L 1986 How do crops manipulate water supply and demand? Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 316, 245-259.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Price A H, Steele K A, Moore B J, Barraclough P B and Clark L J 2000 A combined RFLP and AFLP linkage map of upland rice (Oryza sativaL.) used to identify QTLs for root-penetration ability. Theor. Appl. Gen. 100, 49-56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Richards R A and Passioura J B 1989 A Breeding Program to Reduce the Diameter of the Major Xylem Vessel in the Seminal Roots of Wheat and Its Effect on Grain-Yield in Rain-Fed Environments. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 40, 943-950.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Robinson D, Caul S, Marshall B, Ellis R P 1991 Redistribution of nitrogen from seedlings to ears in spring barley cultivars. Barley Genetics VI. Proceedings of the Sixth International Barley Genetics Symposium, Helsingborg, 1991, 561-562.

  13. Van Noordwijk M 1987 Methods for quantification of root distribution pattern and root dynamics in the field. 20th Colloq. Int. Potash Inst., Berne 263-281.

  14. Zhang W P, Shen X Y, Wu P, Hu B and Liao C Y 2001 QTLs and epistasis for seminal root length under a different water supply in rice (Oryza sativaL.). Theoretical And Applied Genetics 103, 118-123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bengough, A., Gordon, D., Al-Menaie, H. et al. Gel observation chamber for rapid screening of root traits in cereal seedlings. Plant and Soil 262, 63–70 (2004).

Download citation

  • barley
  • genotype
  • Hordeum spontaneum
  • Hordeum vulgare
  • root distribution
  • root growth
  • seminal roots