Researchers receive major grant to discover how plants sense water stress

Thursday, 26 October 2023

An international team of scientists have been awarded €10M to explore how plants sense water stress, generating new knowledge that will underpin efforts to engineer more climate resilient crops.

The University of Nottingham and a team of European scientists from Norway, Germany and Israel have received the highly prestigious European Research Council Synergy award to reveal how roots and shoots sense water stress.

Water is the rate-limiting molecule for life on earth. The devastating impact of climate change is enhancing the effects of water stress on global agriculture. Climate change is causing rainfall patterns to become more erratic, impacting rain-fed crops in particular.

Previous research has shown that roots play a critical role to reduce the impact of water stress on plants by adapting their shape (such as branching or growing deeper) to secure more water.

This new research will take this further and investigate exactly what mechanisms plants use to sense and adapt to water stress, the findings will be vitally important for helping ‘future proof’ crops to 

Water stress is a major problem for global agriculture given the impact of climate change. Europe has experienced serious droughts during 2022 and 2023. Despite its devastating environmental, economic and societal effects, how plants sense water stress remains unknown. The capabilities and expertise to discover exactly how plants sense water stress is beyond any individual researcher or team, demanding instead a partnership between several world-leading groups.
Professor Malcolm Bennett, School of Biosciences and project lead
The team will use state-of-the-art imaging techniques including a new approach to follow water movement inside plant cells. These are the first such images ever generated, letting us see the process of water transport in real time. Our discoveries promise to unlock how plants sense the most important molecule on the planet, WATER. This new knowledge will underpin efforts to design drought resilient crops and underpin future global food security.
Dr Kevin Webb, Faculty of Engineering

ERC President Professor Maria Leptin said: “Congratulations to all the winners! The selected projects are shining examples of audacious scientific thinking, and I eagerly await the outcomes of these collaborative endeavours. I am also happy to see some European researchers teaming up with peers across several continents. Together, they are well-equipped to tackle the substantial scientific questions that our world is yearning to find answers to.”

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More information is available from Professor Malcolm Bennet on

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