Phenotyping modules

From soil life to plant genes

NPEC-facilities 6 1 5 2 4 3

NPEC is one integrated national facility. Our phenotyping facilities are yet being developed and constructed and will be housed across two locations close to each other: Wageningen and Utrecht.

1. ECOtron

In the precision mesocosm–level ECOtron researchers can simulate agricultural and natural ecosystems. They can mimic the complexity of the real world in closed systems of which all aspects can be controlled and measured. Ecotrons provide ideal facilities for studying both above-ground and underground processes to discover which combinations of crops work well together, what the best conditions are for ensuring efficient use of nutrients and preserving soil fertility, how plants interact with other plants and soil life, etc.

The ECOtron will be located at Utrecht University.

Experts involved: Prof. dr. George Kowalchuk, et al.


Prof. dr. G (George) Kowalchuk
Picture iDiv Ecotron

Picture iDiv Ecotron

2. Plant-Microbe Interactions phenotyping

This module - Plant-microbe interactions, facilitates detailed studies of how soil life such as fungi and bacteria (i.e. the microbiome present in a plant’s root system) affects the plant’s growth and immune system, or which genetic characteristics enable a plant to benefit the most from the microorganisms in its environment. This ground breaking research will enable breeders to target the selection process and develop plants that need a smaller amount of pesticides, for example.

This module will be located at Utrecht University.

Experts involved: Dr. Roeland Berendsen & Prof. dr. ir. Corné Pieterse, et al.


Dr. R.L. (Roeland) Berendsen
Screenshot 2020-04-16 at 10.19.25

3. Multi-Environment climate chamber

The Multi-Environment climate chamber module has been designed to study how plants grow under precisely controlled conditions, and how they adapt to stress. For example, they can use a high-resolution camera to reveal how a pathogen spreads through a plant, or how different types of LED lights affect a plant’s immune system. Other research could involve investigating how a plant reacts to changes in light quality, or to floods or drought. This facility can also simulate various climate conditions, for example to study how a plant reacts to frost or to continuous temperatures of above 40°C.

The climate chamber will be housed at Utrecht University.

Experts involved: Prof. dr. Ronald Pierik & Dr. Diederik Keuskamp, et al.


Prof. dr. R. (Ronald) Pierik
Screenshot 2020-04-16 at 10.23.50

4. High-Throughput Phenotyping climate chamber

The climate cells in this research module can be used to analyse thousands of plants in a single experiment. These climate cells are packed full with advanced measuring equipment that can provide rapid insight into how different plant varieties behave in varying climate conditions. This facility is already being used for research into accelerating photosynthesis (the conversion of sunlight into growth) in the model organism Arabidopsis. The research to date has revealed, among other things, that specific genes can be linked to the efficiency of photosynthesis. The climate cells can also be used to study the reactions of the root systems of crops such as tomato and potato to salinisation.

This module is currently being built at Wageningen University & Research.

Experts involved: Prof. dr. Mark Aarts, Prof. dr. Christa Testerink, Dr. Jeremy Harbinson, Tom Theeuwen (PhD), Rumyana Karlova (PhD), Dr. Viola Willemsen, Rinie Verwoert, Drs. Rick van de Zedde, Dr. Rene Klein Lankhorst.


Prof. dr. M.G.M. (Mark) Aarts
NPEC-Module 4-V7 - low res

5. GreenHouse phenotyping

This research module comprises a greenhouse full with equipment, sensors and cameras to analyse large numbers of plants. Plants can be placed on conveyor belts for a three-dimensional scan that provides insight into a variety of properties: from the length of the stem to the size, colour and position of the leaves. The greenhouse is also equipped with sensors that analyse chlorophyll fluorescence, a measure of photosynthesis in the plant. The greenhouse has thermal and 3D cameras that can be positioned directly above the plants on a mobile gantry, so the researchers can study plants without moving them, such as quinoa plants that are grown on scales to measure changes in evaporation rates in response to salinification of the soil.

The greenhouse is currently being built at Wageningen University & Research.

Experts involved: Dr. Robert van Loo, Dr. Elias Kaiser, Dr. Gerard van der Linde, Prof. dr. ir. LFM (Leo) Marcelis, Drs. Rick van de Zedde, Dr. Rene Klein Lankhorst.


Dr. E.N. (Robert) van Loo
NPEC-Kas-V4 - low res
2019-04-03 09.46.51

Research trial with 0.200 and 300 mM salt (NaCl); 300 mM salt is about 75% salinity of sea water. Abiotic stress will also be investigated, especially the genetic variation due to for instance drought stress.

6. Open-Field phenotyping

Research in this module takes place outside in the open air, using vehicles and drones equipped with colour, thermal, 3D and hyperspectral cameras. The data produced provides a quick impression of the performance of plants in a trial field. In potato and quinoa, for example, the height of the plants and the temperature of the leaves are recorded with drones, while any developing plant diseases are also detected with hyperspectral cameras mounted on the vehicles.

Experts involved: Dr. Christian Bachem, Dr. ir. Frits van Evert, Dr. ir. Ard Nieuwenhuizen, Ing. Gerard Derks, Drs. Rick van de Zedde, Dr. Rene Klein Lankhorst, Dr. ir. Sander Mucher, Dr. Harm Bartholomeus, Dr. ir. Lammert Kooistra, Koen van Boheemen, Julia van Oord, Berry Onderstal, Peter van der Zee, Jelle Jolink.


Dr. C.W.B. (Christian) Bachem

Drone flying above NPEC test field at Wageningen University & Research location.

NPEC Data management: Prof. dr. ir. Dick de Ridder, Drs. Sven Warris, Drs. Peter Roos, Drs. Rick van de Zedde and Dr. Basten Snoek.

NPEC communication: Nora de Rijk, Josje Verbeeten.