Methods to Visualize Elements in Plants

Peter M. Kopittke, Enzo Lombi, Antony Van Der Ent, Peng Wang, Jamie S. Laird, Katie L. Moore, Daniel P. Persson, Søren Husted

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Understanding the distribution of elements in plants is important for researchers across a broad range of fields, including plant molecular biology, agronomy, plant physiology, plant nutrition, and ionomics. However, it is often challenging to evaluate the applicability of the wide range of techniques available, with each having its own strengths and limitations. Here, we compare scanning/transmission electron microscopy-based energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy, x-ray fluorescence microscopy, particle-induced x-ray emission, laser ablation inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry, nanoscale secondary ion mass spectroscopy, autoradiography, and confocal microscopy with fluorophores. For these various techniques, we compare their accessibility, their ability to analyze hydrated tissues (without sample preparation) and suitability for in vivo analyses, as well as examining their most important analytical merits, such as resolution, sensitivity, depth of analysis, and the range of elements that can be analyzed. We hope that this information will assist other researchers to select, access, and evaluate the approach that is most useful in their particular research program or application.

Visualizing elements in plants is essential for a broad range of studies, including those aiming to improve plant nutrition and crop productivity, improving the nutritional content of edible portions of plants for human nutrition, and reducing concentrations of harmful contaminants in food and the broader environment. Accordingly, gaining a detailed understanding of the distribution and chemical forms of target elements in plants is critical in plant molecular biology, agronomy, plant nutrition, plant physiology, and ionomics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1869-1882
JournalPlant Physiology
Issue number4
Early online date6 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


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