Effects of X-ray dose on rhizosphere studies using X-ray computed tomography
Zappala, Susan and Helliwell, Jonathan R. and Tracy, Saoirse and Mairhofer, Stefan and Sturrock, Craig and Pridmore, Tony and Bennett, Malcolm J. and Mooney, Sacha J. (2013) Effects of X-ray dose on rhizosphere studies using X-ray computed tomography. PLoS ONE, 8 (6). e67250/1-e67250/8. ISSN 1932-6203
X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) is a non-destructive imaging technique originally designed for diagnostic medicine, which was adopted for rhizosphere and soil science applications in the early 1980s. X-ray CT enables researchers to simultaneously visualise and quantify the heterogeneous soil matrix of mineral grains, organic matter, air-filled pores and water-filled pores. Additionally, X-ray CT allows visualisation of plant roots in situ without the need for traditional invasive methods such as root washing. However, one routinely unreported aspect of X-ray CT is the potential effect of X-ray dose on the soil-borne microorganisms and plants in rhizosphere investigations. Here we aimed to i) highlight the need for more consistent reporting of X-ray CT parameters for dose to sample, ii) to provide an overview of previously reported impacts of X-rays on soil microorganisms and plant roots and iii) present new data investigating the response of plant roots and microbial communities to X-ray exposure. Fewer than 5% of the 126 publications included in the literature review contained sufficient information to calculate dose and only 2.4% of the publications explicitly state an estimate of dose received by each sample. We conducted a study involving rice roots growing in soil, observing no significant difference between the numbers of root tips, root volume and total root length in scanned versus unscanned samples. In parallel, a soil microbe experiment scanning samples over a total of 24 weeks observed no significant difference between the scanned and unscanned microbial biomass values. We conclude from the literature review and our own experiments that X-ray CT does not impact plant growth or soil microbial populations when employing a low level of dose (<30 Gy). However, the call for higher throughput X-ray CT means that doses that biological samples receive are likely to increase and thus should be closely monitored.
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