Thursday, 14 January 2021
Scientists have discovered a signal that causes roots to stop growing in hard soils which can be ‘switched off’ to allow them to punch through compacted soil - a discovery that could help plants to grow in even the most damaged soils.
An international research team, led by scientists from the University of Nottingham’s Future Food Beacon and Shanghai Jiao Tong University has discovered how the plant signal ‘ethylene’ causes roots to stop growing in hard soils, but after this signal is disabled, roots are able to push through compacted soil. The research has been published in Science.
Hard (compacted) soils represent a major challenge facing modern agriculture that can reduce crop yields over 50% by reducing root growth, causing significant losses annually. Europe has over 33-million-hectares of soil prone to compaction which represents the highest in the world. Soil compaction triggers a reduction in root penetration and uptake of water and nutrients. Despite its clear importance for agriculture and global food security, the mechanism underpinning root compaction responses has been unclear until now.
Understanding how roots penetrate hard soils has huge implications for agriculture, as this knowledge will be crucial for breeding crops more resilient to soil compaction. Our team’s identification that the plant signal ethylene controls root responses to hard soil opens up new opportunities to select novel compaction resistant crops.
The research utilised X-ray Computed Tomography scanners available at the Hounsfield Facility at the University of Nottingham to visualise in situ how plant roots responded to compacted soil. Professor Sacha Mooney from the University of Nottingham and Director of the Hounsfield Facility explained: “Prior to this research we assumed that the hardness of the soil prevented roots growing deeper. By using our imaging approach, we were able to see that roots continued growing in very hard soils when the ethylene signal was switched off. The potential for new crops that can now go deeper in soils and capture previously unavailable resources is really exciting!”
The international team involved in this new Science paper includes researchers drawn from nine universities based in Europe, China and USA, integrating expertise spanning plant and soil sciences, bioimaging and mathematics. The team involves several early career researchers including Dr. Bipin Pandey and Dr. Rahul Bhosale who are funded by Royal Society Challenge Grant, BBSRC Discovery Fellowship and University of Nottingham Future Food Beacon awards.
More information is available from Professor Malcolm Bennett on +44 (0)115 937 2604 or Malcolm.Bennett@nottingham.ac.uk or Jane Icke, Media Relations Manager for the Faculty of Science at the University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 951 5751, email@example.com
Notes to editors:
The University of Nottingham
Ranked 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2023, University of Nottingham is a founding member of Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.
The University is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.The University is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.
We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.