Designing Roots to Penetrate Hard Soils Could Help Climate Proof Crops
Published:27 Dec.2022    Source:University of Nottingham
Scientists have discovered how to design cereal roots able to continue growing in hard soils by altering their ability to penetrate, enabling roots to access sources of water deeper in soil, and helping 'climate-proof' vital crops in response to changing UK rain fall patterns.
Climate change is altering rain fall patterns, resulting in drier, harder soils which threaten yields in rain fed crops like cereals. An international team of researchers led by the University of Nottingham and Shanghai University have discovered key genes, hormone signals and processes in rice roots that control their ability to penetrate hard soils. Their findings have been published today in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hard soils cause crop roots to grow shorter and swell. Root swelling was originally thought to help penetrate hard soils. However, X-ray imaging of plants growing in soil at Nottingham revealed that roots which remained narrow penetrate hard soils more easily. The team went on to identify a hormone signal that promoted this root swelling response which, when its levels were reduced, helped roots remain narrow and penetrate hard soil more effectively.