Exploring the transport of plant metabolites using positron emitting radiotracers

HFSP J. 2008 Aug;2(4):189-204. doi: 10.2976/1.2921207. Epub 2008 Jul 8.


Short-lived positron-emitting radiotracer techniques provide time-dependent data that are critical for developing models of metabolite transport and resource distribution in plants and their microenvironments. Until recently these techniques were applied to measure radiotracer accumulation in coarse regions along transport pathways. The recent application of positron emission tomography (PET) techniques to plant research allows for detailed quantification of real-time metabolite dynamics on previously unexplored spatial scales. PET provides dynamic information with millimeter-scale resolution on labeled carbon, nitrogen, and water transport over a small plant-size field of view. Because details at the millimeter scale may not be required for all regions of interest, hybrid detection systems that combine high-resolution imaging with other radiotracer counting technologies offer the versatility needed to pursue wide-ranging plant physiological and ecological research. In this perspective we describe a recently developed hybrid detection system at Duke University that provides researchers with the flexibility required to carry out measurements of the dynamic responses of whole plants to environmental change using short-lived radiotracers. Following a brief historical development of radiotracer applications to plant research, the role of radiotracers is presented in the context of various applications at the leaf to the whole-plant level that integrates cellular and subcellular signals andor controls.