Plants Sense Water To Grow Roots In The Right Direction

Maize hydropatterning - 10 June 2014. The Hounsfield Facility University of Nottingham

Scientists have discovered how the presence of even small amounts of water can influence the structure of plant roots in soil, a finding that opens up new possibilities to improve water and nutrient foraging for important food crops.

Significant improvements in crop yields are urgently required to meet the 50% increase in world population by 2050. The degree of root branching determines the efficiency of water uptake and acquisition of nutrients in crops. Understanding the regulation of root branching is therefore of vital importance.

Using an advanced form of X-ray imaging BBSRC-funded researchers from The University of Nottingham, working with several international groups including colleagues in the USA, have discovered that root branching is profoundly influenced by the distribution of water in soil. An ability to precisely determine where water is in soil, which is different from a touch-reaction, affects the positioning of new lateral roots. Lateral roots (LR) form on the side of the main root in contact with water, but rarely on the dry side.

The researchers have called this novel process “hydropatterning” and showed that it is common to the experimental model species Arabidopsis as well as the important food crops maize and rice. Their results are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Professor Malcolm Bennett, from The University Of Nottingham’s School Of Biosciences, who led the UK team said: “We have discovered that plant roots can sense small differences in water availability across their diameter. Root branching is a target of hydropatterning, with lateral roots only forming on the side of the main root contacting water in soil. Identifying the genes and signals that control this process opens up new possibilities to improve water and nutrient foraging in crops.”

Professor Sacha Mooney, also from The University Of Nottingham’s School of Biosciences, added: “Research in this area has traditionally been hampered by the opacity of soil preventing us actually visualising root behaviour in situ and in three dimensions. This is an excellent example of how the latest imaging technologies such as X-ray micro Computed Tomography can help to provide new insights into important biological mechanisms.”

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IPCC Report: Climate Change Felt On All Continents And Across The Oceans

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Leaked text of blockbuster report says changes in climate have already caused impacts on natural and human systems

Climate change has already left its mark “on all continents and across the oceans”, damaging food crops, spreading disease, and melting glaciers, according to the leaked text of a blockbuster UN climate science report due out on Monday.

Government officials and scientists are gathered in Yokohama this week to wrangle over every line of a summary of the report before the final wording is released on Monday – the first update in seven years.

Nearly 500 people must sign off on the exact wording of the summary, including the 66 expert authors, 271 officials from 115 countries, and 57 observers.

But governments have already signed off on the critical finding that climate change is already having an effect, and that even a small amount of warming in the future could lead to “abrupt and irreversible changes”, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans,” the final report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will say.

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