Water causes plant roots to undergo form shifts and develop new branches, according to studies

Water causes plant roots to undergo form shifts roots of a tree
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Water causes plant roots to undergo form shifts and develop new branches, according to studies

Researchers have found that plant roots change their structure to increase water uptake; they stop branching when they lose contact with water and only start again when they reestablish contact with moisture, allowing them to survive even in the driest conditions.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham have found a brand-new water sensing system in plants that they have dubbed “hydro-signaling”; this mechanism demonstrates how hormone transport is connected to water fluxes. The results were released in Science today.

For life to exist on Earth, water is the rate-limiting molecule. Global agriculture is suffering from water stress to an even greater extent as a result of climate change’s damaging effects. Rainfall patterns are changing as a result of climate change, which will particularly affect crops that rely on rain.

By changing their shape (by branching or growing deeper to secure more water), roots play a crucial role in helping plants cope with water stress. Understanding how plant roots respond to water stress is crucial for “future-proofing” crops and boosting their resilience to climate change.

Researchers were able to use X-ray micro-CT imaging to correlate the transport of water with plant hormone signals that regulate root branching, revealing that roots change their structure in response to the availability of external moisture.

The study offers vital details on the essential genes and mechanisms regulating root branching in response to scarce water availability, assisting researchers in developing fresh methods to regulate root architecture to improve water uptake and crop productivity.

One of the primary authors and postdoctoral scholar from the School of Biosciences, Dr. Poonam Mehra, explains that a vital hormone signal called auxin flows inward with water when roots come into touch with moisture, causing new root branches to form. On the other hand, when roots lose touch with moisture, they rely on internal water supplies that mobilize an additional hormone signal (ABA) outwards, acting to prevent the branching signal’s inward travel. Plant roots can fine-tune their form to local conditions and enhance foraging thanks to this straightforward but elegant mechanism.

The study’s co-leader, Professor Malcolm Bennett, added that the understanding of how to future-proof crops and discover strategies to ensure excellent crop yields even in the most difficult climates depends critically on our research on plants. This discovery is a crucial first step in knowing how to build plants that can still obtain water in these conditions, even though our climate is already getting hotter.


Poonam Mehra et al. (2022). Hydraulic flux-responsive hormone redistribution determines root branching, Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.add3771. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.add3771


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