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By Dr Vivien Rolland Summer Goodwin 30 September 2022 2 min read

You may have spotted these stunning images on our social channels. But do you know what you’re looking at?

We spoke to the researcher behind these images, Senior Research Scientist Dr Vivien Rolland.

Dr Vivien Rolland is a microimaging and plant biotechnology expert.

Microimaging and research

Vivien (Viv) is a microimaging and plant biotechnology expert. He combines these two science domains with artificial intelligence (AI) to improve crop value and sustainability.

Viv wears several hats in our Agriculture and Food business unit. One of them is leading our Black Mountain microImaging Centre (BMIC), which provides state-of-the-art microimaging capabilities for our scientific research.

He is also the recipient of a 2023 Nuffield Scholarship, 2022 ACT Young Tall Poppy Science Award, and 2019 CSIRO Julius Career Award.

So, what exactly are we looking at? Well, we’re looking down on (and into) part of a leaf.

Microscopic image of cells on the surface of a plant leaf.The different colours show how close or far away from the surface each point is.

Leaf the way for science

This is the leaf of a tobacco species called Nicotiana benthamiana, which is native to Australia.

"There are lots of microscopic plant characteristics which are hard to visualise but also very important for crop engineering and breeding," Viv says.

"We often introduce genes and proteins into plants to test their function or see where they go within cells. This is particularly important to investigate because - just like for us - performing an action requires having the right properties and being in the right place for it to happen.

"Microimaging and plant biotechnology help us to understand how successful we are at engineering plants to do something new."

And sometimes what we’re looking for are tiny structures on the surface of plants. Viv’s research recently contributed to developing an AI model that could accurately determine ‘hairiness’ in cotton plants.

This is important for crop yield and the ability of plants to resist certain pests.

True colours

In this first image, we are tracking a protein inside cells. The different colours show depth. Red is closer to the leaf’s surface, while blue is deeper inside the leaf.

But if you look at a leaf with your eyes, you only see green. Why is that?

"Sunlight is made up of all colours of the rainbow. But plant leaves absorb all colours except for the green, which is reflected into your eyes and gives leaves their distinctive colour," Viv says.

"Under a sophisticated microscope, which uses light in the form of lasers, you can use all colours of the rainbow to see different building blocks of plants. These include structures, proteins and compounds.

“The light enters the leaf, and the unique properties of what it hits determine if it will absorb or release light, and of what colour. Microimaging enables us to see it," he says.

Weather report inside a plant cell. This image won second prize in the 2017 Focus on Photosynthesis Scientific Image Competition.

Basic shapes

In this second image, the bright pink lines show the outline of individual cells. The pink discs are the nuclei, where DNA is stored.

"We experimented with this one. We injected a dye in the leaf air space. The chemical dye reacts with the different pH levels and it changes the colour of the light it emits," Viv says.

"The colour depends on how acidic (think lemon or coffee) or basic/alkaline (think baking soda or bleach) the different components of the leaf are. Acidic is pink and alkaline is blue."

Leaving no leaf unturned

We spoke to Viv in-depth about these two images. Watch the interview on our YouTube channel.

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