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Developing methods for visualization of root architecture

UK student wins Tri Societies presentation award for ongoing hemp research

Paul Cockson, a University of Kentucky Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment graduate student in the Department of Plant and Soil Science (PSS), was recently awarded first place for his oral presentation at the Tri Societies International Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. The preeminent international scientific conference unites seasoned and rising scientific authorities in promoting agronomic, crop and soil sciences’ progress.

The annual award acknowledges a student’s research acumen and ability to effectively communicate complex scientific findings to a diverse audience. Cockson’s presentation skills, essential in the scientific community, were recognized as exemplary.

“Winning first place at the Tri-Societies conference was an honor, especially considering the high level of competition,” Cockson said.

In his presentation, Cockson’s research, an integral part of his Ph.D. dissertation, addressed critical challenges for germinating and establishing industrial hemp, a crop with burgeoning economic potential. He stated that his work seeks to uncover why many plants fail post-planting, which is particularly relevant in relation to the crop’s $824 million market value according to the USDA.

Cockson’s approach combines rigorous field observations with detailed laboratory experiments.

“We aim to identify key root characteristics that influence plant growth by studying root phenotypes through traditional and cutting-edge imaging techniques,” Cockson said. “One part includes tracking plant growth in natural conditions. In another, we use 3D imaging to study roots in a more controlled environment. These methods help us gather comprehensive data on root phenotypes."

His innovative methodology using multivariate statistics and modeling has led to simplifying complex root traits and providing crucial insights for hemp cultivation.

“Roots are critical to a plant’s success but are often overlooked because they are difficult to study,” said PSS extension professor and Cockson’s advisor, Bob Pearce. “Paul is developing innovative methods for the visualization of root architecture during hemp growth’s establishment stages.”

Pearce believes Cockson's research will significantly drive the hemp industry’s evolution.

“Paul’s research is helping in identifying key measures of root growth that can be shared with plant breeders working to develop more robust cultivars of industrial hemp. This will be very helpful in moving the hemp industry forward.”

With his research nearing completion, Cockson plans to finalize his field studies by next year and graduate in spring 2025.


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