Image-based profiling combines high-throughput screening with multiparametric feature analysis to capture the effect of perturbations on biological systems. This technology has attracted increasing interest in the field of plant phenotyping, promising to accelerate the discovery of novel herbicides. However, the extraction of meaningful features from unlabeled plant images remains a big challenge.


We describe a novel data-driven approach to find feature representations from plant time-series images in a self-supervised manner by using time as a proxy for image similarity. In the spirit of transfer learning, we first apply an ImageNet-pretrained architecture as a base feature extractor. Then, we extend this architecture with a triplet network to refine and reduce the dimensionality of extracted features by ranking relative similarities between consecutive and non-consecutive time points. Without using any labels, we produce compact, organized representations of plant phenotypes and demonstrate their superior applicability to clustering, image retrieval and classification tasks. Besides time, our approach could be applied using other surrogate measures of phenotype similarity, thus providing a versatile method of general interest to the phenotypic profiling community.

Availability and implementation

Source code is provided in

Supplementary information

Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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