Alexander Bucksch is an Associate Professor in the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona who develops plant phenotyping methods across all biological and ecological scales with an emphasis on plat roots. As a trained computer scientist, he developed his interest in plant biology & ecology during his undergraduate studies at the Brandenburg Technical University. Since then he developed computational methods to analyze plant morphology in the field as a PhD at the Delft Technical University and as a PostDoc at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Currently, his methods are used by thousands of users within the CyVerse cyberinfrastructure (http://plantit.cyverse.org). During his first faculty appointment at the University of Georgia, he was awarded the NSF CAREER Award, the Fred C. Davison Early Career Award and the Early Career Award of the North American Plant Phenotyping Network for his computational approaches to understand the functions of plant morphologies and their associated formation processes.
An increasing human population faces the growing demand for agricultural products and accurate global climate models that account for individual plant morphologies to sustain human life. Both demands are ultimately rooted in an improved understanding of the mechanistic origins of plant development and their resulting phenotypes. Such understanding requires geometric and topological descriptors to characterize plant phenotypes and to link phenotypes to genotypes. However, the current plant phenotyping framework relies on simple length and diameter measurements, which fail to capture the exquisite architecture of plants. My research aims to set new frontiers in combining plant phenotyping with recent results from shape theory at the interface of geometry and topology. The core technical method I use is to expand and apply the mathematical concept of a “shape descriptor” to the plant sciences. Shape descriptors describe the current state and growth of complex structures, including the rich geometric and topological characteristics of plants. More generally, understanding adaptation of plants to their environments is best observed within imaging data capturing the spatial arrangement of plant organs forming the plant phenotype. Spatial arrangements appear in leafs, branches, roots etc. on all biological and ecological scales. A full understanding the formation of morphological phenotypes requires analysis of the interplay with the underlying formation processes on cellular and genetic scales as well as the interactions on a population and community scale. Applying and extending shape theory for plants is the centerpiece of my current work towards unravelling the formation of plant phenotypes. In doing so, I utilize data collected with self-made imaging instruments from which shapes are extracted to apply shape descriptions.