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The imaging system detects fluorescence emitted from chlorophyll, a pigment that gives plants their green color and is essential for absorbing the sunlight plants use to create energy through photosynthesis. Monitoring chlorophyll and how photosynthesis is performed in a plant provides insight into the health and growth of the plants.

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The limited imaging area of commercially available chlorophyll fluorescence imagers restricts these instruments to imaging, at most, one or two seedlings at a time. In fact, some imagers only capture fluorescence from a few leaves at a time. Because photosynthesis can vary from plant to plant and even from leaf to leaf, many images would have to be acquired to get a picture of overall crop growth.

In addition to helping farmers check crop health, the new system will be helpful for studying how plants respond to changes in growing conditions and for high-throughput phenotyping, an automated method used in crop research and development to analyze how genetic modifications affect plant characteristics such as leaf size or drought resistance in a large number of plants. The technique could also be modified for microscopy, allowing imaging of photosynthesis inside the plant cells.