Kac goes to work: Stochastic processes as probes of the architecture of plant root systems

Speaker: David Schneider

Date: Sat, Jan 30, 2021

Location: Zoom

Conference: PIHOT kick-off event

Subject: Mathematics, Mathematical Biology, Environmental Science

Class: Scientific

CRG: Pacific Interdisciplinary Hub on Optimal Transport


The past decade has seen a rapid development of data-driven plant breeding strategies based on the two significant technological developments. First, the use of high throughput DNA sequencing technology to identify millions of genetic markers on that characterize the available genetic diversity captured by the thousands of available accessions in each major crop species. Second, the development of high throughput imaging platforms for estimating quantitative traits associated with easily accessible above-ground structures such as shoots, leaves and flowers. These data-driven breeding strategies are widely viewed as the basis for rapid development of crops capable of providing stable yields in the face of global climate change. Roots and other below-ground structures are much more difficult to study yet play essential roles in adaptation to climate change including as uptake of water and nutrients. Estimation of quantitative traits from images remains a significant technical and scientific bottleneck for both above and below-ground structures. The focus of this talk, inspired by the analytical results of Kac, van den Berg and many others in the area of spectral geometry, is to describe a computational and statistical methodology that employs stochastic processes as quantitative measurement tools suitable for characterizing images of multi-scale dendritic structures such as plant root systems. The substrate for statistical analyses in Wasserstein space are hitting distributions obtained by simulation. The practical utility of this approach is demonstrated using 2D images of sorghum roots of different genetic backgrounds and grown in different environments.