3D Plant Imaging

We use 3-D imaging to help us gain insights into how plant shapes develop. By imaging in 3-D we can observe plant shape and gene activity at a variety of developmental stages and scales.

To create 3-D images of plants we use a technique called Optical Projection Tomography (OPT). OPT works by projecting light through a specimen and capturing a series of shadow projections as the specimen is rotated. The images are processed by specialised computer software to construct the 3-dimensional representation. Once a scan has been constructed we use another piece of software to view the various elements of the plant, make measurements, use landmarks to quantify growth in 3-D, and collect images for animations shown in the Self-made Shape movie and Inner World of Carnivorous Plants.

OPT can be applied to a wide variety of plant material including leaves, flowers, seedlings, roots, seeds, embryos and meristems.

For naturally semi-transparent structures, such as Utricularia bladder traps, live 3-D imaging using OPT allows us to view real-time growth of living plants samples.

For more examples see our How did the variety of leaf forms evolve? and How did grasses evolve and how do they build themselves? pages.