Controlling plant root growth could help with climate change

Controlling plant root growth could help with climate change

The survival and productivity of plants depend on the importance of their root systems. These intricate networks allow plants to efficiently extract water and essential nutrients from the soil. However, the impact of root architecture, which encompasses the spatial arrangement of roots in the soil, extends far beyond the realm of plants. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the United States have successfully unraveled the mechanisms that regulate root growth. Their findings offer promising prospects for safeguarding crop yields and potentially mitigating the effects of climate change.

With all this, it is believed that Controlling plant root growth could help with climate change.

Root process

Roots of trees

Roots go through a process of growth and expansion, drawing water and vital nutrients from the soil in which they are embedded. This growth leads to the development of distinct architectural structures within the roots. While certain plants have roots that remain confined to the upper layers of soil, others have roots that extend to deeper regions.

The plant's ability to resist nutrient depletion and harsh climatic conditions, such as drought, depends on its access to nutrients and water through the root system. Scientists at the Salk Institute have successfully discovered the critical role of a widely recognized plant hormone in regulating the direction in which roots grow.

In a recent publication in the journal 'Cell Reports', researchers have shown that The hormone ethylene plays a crucial role in controlling lateral root angles., which ultimately determine the structure of the root systems.

Root growth manipulation

plant roots

The revelation of this advance presents an opportunity to manipulate the trajectory of root development, allowing the creation of resilient plants and crops capable of withstanding the challenges posed by climate change and water scarcity. Additionally, these plants have the potential to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it safely deep in the earth, playing a crucial role in mitigating the effects of climate change.

"The ability to regulate the depth of root growth is a source of great excitement for scientists seeking to develop more efficient systems," says Wolfgang Busch, lead author of the study. This is because deep roots have an important role in improving soil carbon storage and increasing plant resistance to drought.

The researcher emphasizes that he is particularly excited to discover that the pathway they identified is conserved in numerous plant species. This means that his findings have broad implications and can be used to improve the root structure of various land plants, including crops important for food, fodder and fuel.

Root system shape

roots and climate change

The shape of a plant's root system can be influenced by several environmental factors, including average rainfall and the availability of specific nutrients.

Scientists have long been puzzled by the molecular mechanisms that dictate the angle at which roots grow, as this angle has a significant impact on the overall architecture of the root system. Specifically, horizontal root angles result in shallower root systems, while vertical root angles lead to deeper root systems. However, The precise factors that determine these angles have been elusive until recently.

In previous studies, associations have been established between plant hormones such as auxins and cytokinins and root growth angle. However, the specific mechanisms underlying this relationship have not been fully understood.

To discover the specific molecules and pathways responsible for determining the angle at which roots grow, the research team performed genetic analysis of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant belonging to the mustard family. They meticulously observed how the plant's root system responded to a wide range of thousands of different molecules, all in the quest to create the "ideal plants" perfect.


First author Wenrong He reveals that they made an interesting observation about root growth when exposed to a molecule called mebendazole. Specifically, they noticed that mebendazole caused roots to grow more horizontally. Curiosity led them to investigate the proteins or pathways with which mebendazole interacted to produce this effect and they discovered that it was related to ethylene signaling. The importance of the participation of ethylene in The configuration of the root system structure was particularly fascinating to He.

After careful observation, the research team observed that the activation of genes within the ethylene signaling pathway was a direct response to the presence of mebendazole. As a result, this pathway facilitated subsequent alterations in root growth. Further analysis of this intricate connection through biochemical investigations revealed that mebendazole effectively hinders the functioning of a specific protein kinase known as CTR1. It is this particular enzyme that plays a negative role in regulating ethylene signaling, which ultimately leads to the promotion of a shallow root system.

Busch explains that due to the widespread nature of ethylene signaling in land plants, directing efforts toward the ethylene pathway holds great promise for improving root systems. The goal is to use this technique to develop crop species that are more resistant and capable of sequestering greater amounts of carbon underground, thus helping in the battle against climate change. The recent discovery of the participation of ethylene in the architecture of the root system raises new questions for scientists. They are now exploring the possibility of identifying alternative molecules, other than mebendazole, that could stimulate deeper root growth. Additionally, researchers are investigating whether there are specific genes within the widely documented ethylene signaling pathway that can be targeted more effectively to promote deeper roots in crops and plants.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about how controlling plant root growth could help with climate change.

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