Miguel MA, JA Postma, JP Lynch


Plant Physiology, April 2015

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Shallow basal root growth angle (BRGA) increases phosphorus acquisition efficiency by enhancing topsoil foraging, since in most soils phosphorus is concentrated in the topsoil. Root hair length and density (RHL/D) increase phosphorus acquisition by expanding the soil volume subject to phosphorus depletion through diffusion. We hypothesized that shallow BRGA and large RHL/D are synergetic for phosphorus acquisition, meaning their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. To evaluate this hypothesis phosphorus acquisition in the field in Mozambique was compared among Recombinant Inbred Lines (RILs) of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) having four distinct root phenotypes: long root hairs and shallow basal roots; long root hairs and deep basal roots; short root hairs and shallow basal roots; and short root hairs and deep basal roots. Results revealed substantial synergism between BRGA and RHL/D. Compared with short-haired, deep-rooted phenotypes, long root hairs increased shoot biomass under phosphorus stress by 89% while shallow roots increased shoot biomass by 58%. Genotypes with both long root hairs and shallow roots had 298% greater biomass accumulation than short-haired, deep-rooted phenotypes. The utility of shallow basal roots and long root hairs for phosphorus acquisition in combination is therefore twice as large as their additive effects. We conclude that the anatomical phene of long, dense root hairs and the architectural phene of shallower basal root growth are synergetic for phosphorus acquisition. Phene synergism may be common in plant biology and can have substantial importance for plant fitness, as shown here.