A new simple method for labeling field crops with stable isotope tracers

Aaron J. Saathoff, Madhavan Soundararajan, Kenneth P. Vogel, Christian M. Tobias, Paul Twigg, Gautam Sarath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Numerous systems have been used to label plants with 13C, which differ in design and complexity depending upon the desired experimental goals. However, most of these systems have generally been applied to greenhouse grown plants. Here, we report on a relatively simple 13C labeling system designed to label crops such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) grown in the greenhouse or small field plots. The main goals of this study were to validate the system and establish performance benchmarks. We constructed and field tested a simple design plexiglass chamber that was sealed at the soil level with a buried rubber apron. Chamber air was circulated through an infrared gas analyzer to monitor CO2 levels within the chamber. Provisions were made to control temperatures and minimize condensation inside the chamber during labeling. Control experiments using the empty chamber both under greenhouse and field settings showed that decline in CO2 levels was only due to plant CO2 absorption and not due to leakage. Results indicated that the system had generally suitable performance characteristics in both greenhouse and field settings. Isotope enrichment data from our studies revealed that switchgrass fixed 13CO2 that was injected into the chamber within 15-20 min labeling periods. The mean and standard deviation of leaf δ13C values across nine plants enclosed in the chamber was 34 ± 8.9 and 96.1 ± 23.6 for the single and double labeling experiments, respectively. Results indicate that a chamber of this construction type can be effectively used also for labeling other crop plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1625-1631
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian Journal of Crop Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2014


  • CO
  • CO
  • Greenhouse grown plants
  • Mixing dynamics
  • Plexi-glass chamber
  • Switchgrass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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