A Faster Way To Clean Roots
Agronomists, plant pathologists, and botaniststo name a feware
interested in the effects of soil and crop management practices on crop
root systems. But before they can begin their studies, scientists usually
have to spend time and energy cleaning soil off the roots. A new invention
by the Agricultural Research Service
(ARS) may help with that.
Soil scientist Joseph G. Benjamin, of ARS's Central Great Plains Research
Station in Akron, Colorado, has created a root washer with a rotary
design to automate and speed up the process. Other devices require more
attention from the operator. The new device can clean up to 24 samples
at a time, more than previous washers.
The washing cycle starts when a technician places a sample of soil
and roots in the machine's chambers. As the sample rotates within the
machine, it is dipped into and sprayed with water to remove the soil.
Mud exits from the back of the machine. The cycle takes about 90 minutes,
and the roots, which are not damaged by the machine, are then ready
"The root washer works well to easily and quickly separate plant
roots and other organic materials from the soil," Benjamin says.
He also points out that his device can wash larger samples than other
Once the roots are clean, a flatbed scanner is then used to digitize
images of them for scientists to analyze with computer software. Through
mathematical equations, Benjamin is able to determine the surface area
of the roots contained in the sample. As Benjamin points out, "The
human eye is still the best discriminator at determining what materials
are roots and what are not."
Benjamin's root washer is an enlarged version of a weed-seed washer
invented by weed scientist Lori J. Wiles and others in ARS's Water Management
Research Unit, at Fort Collins, Colorado. Before her invention, there
was nothing available commercially to quickly wash soil from seeds.By
David Elstein, Agricultural
Research Service Information Staff.
Joseph G. Benjamin
is with the USDA-ARS Central Great Plains Research Station, 40335 Country
Road GG, Akron, CO 80720; phone (970) 345-0518, fax (970) 345-2088.
"A Faster Way To Clean Roots" was published in the January 2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.