New Roots for Agriculture - Exploiting the Root Phenome


Lynch, J.; Brown, K.


Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Volume 367, Number 1595, 1598-1604 (2012)


Recent advances in root biology are making it possible to genetically design root systems with enhanced soil exploration and resource capture. These cultivars would have substantial value for improving food security in developing nations, where yields are limited by drought and low soil fertility, and would enhance the sustainability of intensive agriculture. Many of the phenes controlling soil resource capture are related to root architecture. We propose that a better understanding of the root phenome is needed to effectively translate genetic advances into improved crop cultivars. Elementary, unique root phenes need to be identified. We need to understand the ‘fitness landscape’ for these phenes: how they affect crop performance in an array of environments and phenotypes. Finally, we need to develop methods to measure phene expression rapidly and economically without artefacts. These challenges, especially mapping the fitness landscape, are non-trivial, and may warrant new research and training modalities.