Cleaning Roots More Efficiently
January 9, 2004
Cleaning soil from plant roots before studying them would be
easier and faster using a new washing device developed by
Agricultural Research Service
Agronomists, plant pathologists, botanists and other researchers
study the effects of soil and crop management practices on crop root systems.
To examine plant roots, scientists usually have to spend time and energy
cleaning them first.
Now ARS soil scientist Joseph G. Benjamin, at the agency's
Central Great Plains Research
Station in Akron, Colo., 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
The washing cycle starts when a technician places a soil
sample--including roots--in the machine. As the samples rotate inside, they are
dipped into water and then sprayed with water to remove the soil. Mud goes out
the back of the machine as the roots are constantly washed. The cycle takes
about one and a half hours to complete. The undamaged roots are then ready to
After the roots are cleaned, a flat-bed scanner digitizes root
images so scientists can analyze the samples using computer software. Through
mathematical equations, Benjamin determines the surface area of roots in the
Benjamin's root washer is an enlarged version of the weed-seed
washer invented by weed scientist Lori J. Wiles and others in the ARS
Water Management Research Unit, Fort
information about this research is available in the January issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.