The University of Toronto Mississauga is an institution focused on advancement in research in multiple fields, one of which includes plants. Last Tuesday, the Erindale Biology Society organized a tour of the UTM Research Greenhouse, opening up the innovative building to students. In this article, The Medium reports on the features of the greenhouse.
The UTM Research Greenhouse is located behind the library and was built in 2016. It is a standalone building with its own heating and ventilation system and is comprised of five glasshouses. Each glasshouse has 63 m2 of bench space for plant growth with individual environmental regulatory machinery. Four of the smaller glasshouses are used for individual projects, while the larger one is used for plant growth in general projects.
Conditions essential to the plant’s growth are altered by an automated software which regulates the light, temperature, relative humidity, and irrigation in each of the five glasshouses. The adjustments are made to better mimic the native conditions from where the plants originate and to control for extraneous variables. The amount of light supplied to the plants is modified according to the requirements of the project and the amount of daylight hours the plant experiences in its native habitat. For instance, if needed, even 18-hour daytime light can be supplied to the experimental plants.
The automated software also allows for the manipulation of the relative humidity in each of the glasshouses. For example, the relative humidity may be increased to improve the sprouting of a seedling. The glass surrounding the glasshouses is double-paned which maintains proper insulation. The greenhouse also has a weather station installed on the top of the building which relays information about the outside weather to the automated software. If, for instance, the outer temperature falls below 5°C, the chiller would not be turned on.
Another innovative feature of the Research Greenhouse involves the silver shade curtains which can be used to cover the roof of the building. The curtains are used to minimize sunlight exposure and to maintain heat inside the building. The automated software also allows the researchers to monitor the precise conditions in which the experiment was performed and later use the details in their analysis.
Some of the plants in the greenhouse which are currently being used as part of research include rose geranium, poplar, and white clover. The areas of active research in the greenhouse include the epigenetics, stress, physiology and ecology of plants.
The greenhouse is actively used by UTM professors. Dr. Saša Stefanović, professor of biology, is currently investigating the interactions between autotrophic plants and parasitic plants. Dr. Peter M. Kotanen, also a professor of biology at UTM, studies the relationship between plants and insects, while Dr. Michael Phillips, an assistant professor of biology, is currently studying plant metabolism-specifically terpenoids and their impact on human health. Dr. Yuhong He, an associate professor of geography, uses the greenhouse and ecosystem modelling to identify endangered and invasive species. Numerous graduate students in the biology and geography departments at UTM also conduct their research at the greenhouse—a centre for advanced plant research enhanced by the use of automated software.