Exploiting the functionality of root systems for dry, saline, and nutrient deficient environments in a changing climate uri icon


  • Increasing episodes of drought, lack of sufficient nutrients, exposure to toxic minerals, and soil compactionare just a few examples of the environmental constraints that the roots are exposed to during plant growth.Understanding how roots respond to these stresses is crucial for improving crop production under suchconditions. Yet, investigating roots is a very difficult task and, therefore, very little is known about theprecise role that the roots play in contributing to plant adaptation to hostile environments. It is assumed thatwhile the root depth and abundance would contribute to drought tolerance, profuse rooting would enhancenutrient capture, and where the membrane transporters would exclude salts from the root cells. However, agreat deal is still unknown about how these mechanisms actually operate; for example which particularcharacteristics of roots and root hydraulics actually contributes to water uptake in a way that confersincreased tolerance, how the stress signaling from the roots affects the physiological relations in the shootand those between the shoot and the root, how water and nutrient absorption relate to one another whenboth are limiting, or how roots avoid the loading of salt in xylem vessels.In this paper, our intention is not an exhaustive review of roots, but to highlight a few research topicsrelated to abiotic stresses - mostly drought stress, but also nutrient limitation (especially phosphorus) andsalt stress - where roots and their hydraulics are at the center stage. First, we provide an update on rootstructure, root hydraulics, and modes of water and nutrient absorption, mainly focusing on how inter- andintra-specific variations in these aspects can modify the way roots respond to a range of abiotic stresses.We then review scattered reports across a range of crops showing the contribution of roots to stresstolerance, and then report our own assessment of the role of roots using near isogenic lines (NILs)

publication date

  • 2007