A high-throughput screening system for barley/powdery mildew interactions based on automated analysis of light micrographs
Background To find candidate genes that potentially influence the susceptibility or resistance of crop plants to powdery mildew fungi, an assay system based on transient-induced gene silencing (TIGS) as well as transient over-expression in single epidermal cells of barley has been developed. However, this system relies on quantitative microscopic analysis of the barley/powdery mildew interaction and will only become a high-throughput tool of phenomics upon automation of the most time-consuming steps. Results We have developed a high-throughput screening system based on a motorized microscope which evaluates the specimens fully automatically. A large-scale double-blind verification of the system showed an excellent agreement of manual and automated analysis and proved the system to work dependably. Furthermore, in a series of bombardment experiments an RNAi construct targeting the Mlo gene was included, which is expected to phenocopy resistance mediated by recessive loss-of-function alleles such as mlo5. In most cases, the automated analysis system recorded a shift towards resistance upon RNAi of Mlo, thus providing proof of concept for its usefulness in detecting gene-target effects. Conclusion Besides saving labor and enabling a screening of thousands of candidate genes, this system offers continuous operation of expensive laboratory equipment and provides a less subjective analysis as well as a complete and enduring documentation of the experimental raw data in terms of digital images. In general, it proves the concept of enabling available microscope hardware to handle challenging screening tasks fully automatically.