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Measuring Photosynthesis

Jülich and JB Hyperspectral adapt systems to analyse plant stress for commercial applications

Jülich, 24 November – Plants react to their surroundings, such as extreme weather and environmental conditions. For example, they often reduce their primary metabolic pathway, photosynthesis, during droughts or when nutrients are scarce. They ‘hold their breath’ and wait for better days. In agricultural production, when plants endure adverse environmental conditions in this way, it is usually accompanied by yield losses during harvest time. Jülich plant researchers recently founded a start-up to market a method to measure plant stress. In a few years, this new technology will also be on board an ESA satellite.

Scientists at the Institute of Bio- and Geosciences (IBG-2) have developed several methods to gather and record such physiological changes automatically and in a non-destructive manner. An effective method used in many scientific studies is measuring the fluorescence of chlorophyll, the pigment that gives leaves their green colour. This fluorescence gives off a weak red glow that is invisible to the human eye but can be detected by state-of-the-art measuring instruments. For scientists, changes in the fluorescence signal are early indicators of plant stress. Jülich plant researchers have adapted one of these measuring instruments for the commercial market. For a few months, the start-up called JB Hyperspectral Devices has been distributing ‘FloX’, an autonomous measuring system, which is mounted above the plants where it can detect early symptoms of vegetation stress based on changing fluorescence signals. The novel measuring system can be installed at a distance of several metres from the plants and has also been successfully used on towers. ‘The newly founded start-up has been extremely successful during its first few months and has already received several orders from all over the world,’ says a delighted Dr. Andreas Burkhart, one of the two founders of JB Hyperspectral.

While the young company founders offer the novel measuring system to a wide user community, such as farmers and landscape planners, researchers at IBG-2 are already working on optimizing the method for a much larger application. In 2020, the European Space Agency (ESA) is planning to launch the new ‘Fluorescence Explorer’ satellite – FLEX for short – which will collect valuable data on global plant productivity. At the heart of FLEX is a high-resolution spectrometer that will make use of the measuring method developed at Jülich. For the last five years, the measuring technique developed by Jülich plant researchers has been successfully used in an aircraft sensor of a Cessna research craft in order to identify areas with increased vegetative stress. As part of the Earth Explorer programme, ESA is now using FLEX to build the first satellite that will map the glow of plants globally. The researchers from IBG-2 and the new start-up are involved in numerous international studies in order to prepare for this satellite mission, developing an accompanying network of ground-based measuring systems spanning the globe.


Dr. Andreas Müller
Institute of Bio- and Geosciences (IBG-2), Forschungszentrum Jülich
Tel: +49 2461 61-3528

Further information:

Institute of Bio- and Geosciences, Plant Sciences (IBG-2)

JB Hyperspectral Devices UG

Press contact:

Annette Stettien
Corporate Communications, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Tel: +49 2461 61-2388