Root phenes that reduce the metabolic costs of soil exploration: opportunities for 21st century agriculture
Plant, Cell & Environment, vol. 38, issue 9, pg. 1775-1784, 2015.
Crop genotypes with reduced metabolic costs of soil exploration would have improved water and nutrient acquisition. Three strategies to achieve this goal are 1) production of the optimum number of axial roots; 2) greater biomass allocation to root classes that are less metabolically demanding; and 3) reduction of the respiratory requirement of root tissue. An example of strategy 1 is the case of reduced crown root number in maize, which is associated with greater rooting depth, N capture, and yield in low N soil. An example of strategy 2 is the case of increased hypocotyl-borne rooting in bean, which decreases root cost and increases P capture from low P soil. Examples of strategy 3 are the cases of increased formation of root cortical aerenchyma, decreased cortical cell file number, and increased cortical cell size in maize, which decrease specific root respiration, increase rooting depth, and increase water capture and yield under water stress. Root cortical aerenchyma also increases N capture and yield under N stress. Root phenes that reduce the metabolic cost of soil exploration are promising, underexploited avenues to the climate-resilient, resource-efficient crops that are urgently needed in global agriculture.