Background: Arabidopsis thaliana is now the model organism for genetic and molecular plant studies, but growing conditions may still impair the significance and reproducibility of the experimental strategies developed. Besides the use of phytotronic cabinets, controlling plant nutrition may be critical and could be achieved in hydroponics. The availability of such a system would also greatly facilitate studies dealing with root development. However, because of its small size and rosette growth habit, Arabidopsis is hardly grown in standard hydroponic devices and the systems described in the last years are still difficult to transpose at a large scale. Our aim was to design and optimize an up-scalable device that would be adaptable to any experimental conditions.
Results: An hydroponic system was designed for Arabidopsis, which is based on two units: a seed-holder and a 1-L tank with its cover. The original agar-containing seed-holder allows the plants to grow from sowing to seed set, without transplanting step and with minimal waste. The optimum nitrate supply was determined for vegetative growth, and the flowering response to photoperiod and vernalization was characterized to show the feasibility and reproducibility of experiments extending over the whole life cycle. How this equipment allowed to overcome experimental problems is illustrated by the analysis of developmental effects of nitrate reductase deficiency in nia1nia2 mutants.
Conclusion: The hydroponic device described in this paper allows to drive small and large scale cultures of homogeneously growing Arabidopsis plants. Its major advantages are its flexibility, easy handling, fast maintenance and low cost. It should be suitable for many experimental purposes.