Christopher F. Strock, Jonathan P. Lynch


Annals of Botany, 126(2):205–218

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Background and Aims: Despite recent progress in elucidating the molecular basis of secondary growth (cambial growth), the functional implications of this developmental process remain poorly understood. Targeted studies exploring how abiotic and biotic factors affect this process, as well as the relevance of secondary growth to fitness of annual dicotyledonous crop species under stress are almost entirely absent from the literature. Specifically, the physiological role of secondary growth in roots has been completely neglected yet entails a unique array of implications for plant performance that are distinct from secondary growth in shoot tissue.

Scope: Since roots are directly responsible for soil resource capture, understanding of the fitness landscape of root phenotypes is important in both basic and applied plant biology. Interactions between root secondary growth, edaphic conditions, and soil resource acquisition may have significant effects on plant fitness. Our intention here is not to provide a comprehensive review of a sparse and disparate literature, but rather to highlight knowledge gaps, propose hypotheses, and identify opportunities for novel and agriculturally relevant research pertaining to secondary growth of roots. This viewpoint 1) summarizes evidence from our own studies and other published work, 2) proposes hypotheses regarding the fitness landscape of secondary growth of roots in annual dicotyledonous species for abiotic and biotic stress, and 3) highlights the importance of directing research efforts to this topic within an agricultural context.

Conclusions: Secondary growth of the roots of annual dicots has functional significance with regards to soil resource acquisition and transport, interactions with soil organisms, and carbon sequestration. Research on these topics would contribute significantly toward understanding the agronomic value of secondary growth of roots for crop improvement.