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Background: Non-invasive procedures for the diagnosis of viability of plant or fungal tissues would be valuable for scientific, industrial and biomonitoring purposes. Previous studies showed that infrared thermography (IRT) enables non-invasive assessment of the viability of individual "orthodox" (i.e. desiccation tolerant) seeds upon water uptake. However, this method was not tested for rehydrating tissues of other desiccation tolerant life forms. Furthermore, evaporative cooling could obscure the effects of metabolic processes that contribute to heating and cooling, but its effects on the shape of the "thermal fingerprints" have not been explored. Here, we further adapted this method using a purpose-built chamber to control relative humidity (RH) and gaseous atmosphere. This enabled us to test (i) the influence of relative humidity on the thermal fingerprints during the imbibition of Pisum sativum (Garden pea) seeds, (ii) whether thermal fingerprints can be correlated with viability in lichens, and (iii) to assess the potential influence of aerobic metabolism on thermal fingerprints by controlling the oxygen concentration in the gaseous atmosphere around the samples. Finally, we developed a method to artificially "age" lichens and validated the IRT-based method to assess lichen viability in three lichen species. Results: Using either 30% or 100% RH during imbibition of pea seeds, we showed that "live" and "dead" seeds produced clearly discernible "thermal fingerprints", which significantly differed by > |0.15| °C in defined time windows, and that RH affected the shape of these thermal fingerprints. We demonstrated that IRT can also be used to assess the viability of the lichens Lobaria pulmonaria, Pseudevernia furfuracea and Peltigera leucophlebia. No clear relationship between aerobic metabolism and the shape of thermal fingerprints was found. Conclusions: Infrared thermography appears to be a promising method for the diagnosis of viability of desiccation-tolerant tissues at early stages of water uptake. For seeds, it is possible to diagnose viability within the first hours of rehydration, after which time they can still be re-dried and stored until further use. We envisage our work as a baseline study for the use of IR imaging techniques to investigate physiological heterogeneity of desiccation tolerant life forms such as lichens, which can be used for biomonitoring, and for sorting live and dead seeds, which is potentially useful for the seed trade.
Fernández-Marín, B., Buchner, O., Kastberger, G., Piombino, F., García-Plazaola, J. I., & Kranner, I. (2019). Non-invasive diagnosis of viability in seeds and lichens by infrared thermography under controlled environmental conditions. Plant Methods, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13007-019-0531-8