The conventional naked eye approach of phenotyping is now getting
replaced with the arrival of phenomics. It combines different
technologies to study the various physical traits.
— Mr Dirk Vandenhirtz, CEO
A Germany-based company, LemnaTec, has a scanalyzer platform that
generates digital images in a wide range of wavelengths far beyond
human vision. The software auto-matically analyzes these images
resulting in a considerable number of qualitative visual parameters. In
an exclusive interview with BioSpectrum, Mr Dirk Vandenhirtz, CEO,
LemnaTec, who was recently in India; shares his insights on the
importance of phenomics, the company’s future plans and the Indian
Q Tell us
more about phenomics and the solutions offered by LemnaTec?
Phenomics studies the physical and biochemical traits of organisms as
they change in response to genetic mutation and environmental
influences. It is used in functional genomics, pharmaceutical research
and metabolic engineering. It helps us to visualize and analyze the
biology beyond human vision. LemnaTec platform helps in identifying and
numbering of traits that are important to researchers. Then
accordingly, Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) can be used by the
Our team of scientists develop hardware and software solutions for
high-throughput and high content screening of plants, seedlings,
insects and other organisms and for the automated evaluation of
biotests in ecotoxicology. The idea is to bring the technology to the
researchers. Digital images are primarily taken by the scanalyzer
systems, PL, HTS, 3D, all set up in a modular design. Using advanced
LemnaTec image processing algorithms, every visible sample parameter
(e.g. color, shape, size, architecture) is subsequently measured and
correlated with experimental records (e.g. genetic data).
Besides, the small plant phenotyping, the high content and high
throughput screening is used for basic research, pharmaceutical trials
and plant protection. LemnaTec scanalyzer are able to automatically
scan various plant sizes, ranging from trays with small Arabidopsis
rosettes to crop plants of three meters.
Q How do you compare the market for phenomics in India
with rest of the world?
Every country has its own peculiar markets with a specific focus. In
the US, the research is focused on soybean and corn, while Europe and
India have different research areas depen-ding on local needs. So far,
we have been supplying mostly to the US and the European markets. The
Indian market is different and due to anti-GM policies, there is a
slight reluctance among few companies to invest. However,
notwithstanding that fact we are entering Indian, Chinese and Brazilian
markets. Depending on the local needs, we are working with researchers
to modify the platforms.
Q What kind of investments would LemnaTec make in India
and what are your expectations from the Indian market?
We have a long-term strategy for India as planning and implementation
cannot be short-term. Primarily, we are building relationships with
researchers. We selected Gurgaon-based Trishna Biotech as our partner
to understand the local market and technology requirements. Trishna
biotech offers consultancy and supplies the complete solution package
to the Industry. In India, it will certainly take time, as these are
high ticket instruments. Hopefully, we will have substantial
investments in the next five years. In FY 2009-10, LemnaTec grossed
$16.3 million (`73.78 crore) worldwide, and now in 2010-11, we expect
it to grow upto $20.4 million (`92.34 crore). Our vision is to double
the sales in phenomics business.
Q What kind of hiccups do you see in the implementation
of your technology?
The main challenges are high custom duty and dearth of trained people
to handle this technology. Cooperation with the government in all
countries is important as it is vital for the smooth transition of
technology. The GM restrictions do pose a challenge but eventually we
expect these to resolve. There have been initial hiccups but slowly we
are overcoming them.
What kind of association have you formed with the
It is really a challenge to feed the country’s huge population,
especially in a country like India. Since weather conditions have
colossal impact on the food production, we have identified projects
with Indian Council for Agricultural Research on abiotic stress.
Basically, we will be imparting training to the researchers working in
the institutes about the technology. Having started with ICAR, the
Department of Biotechnology and some CSIR institutes will also get
As of now, the National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute of the DBT
has a mandate to do research in the phenomics area. In the coming
years, we are looking forward to work closely with the Indian
government for the establishment of national phenomics centers across
in New Delhi