Researchers have discovered how a mechanism that controls root development in plants can enable them to cope better with environmental stress conditions.
It is hoped the advance may help countries suffering from climate change issues and help plants to better access water.
Plants growing in natural ecosystems live alongside a multitude of microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, known as the microbiota.
Some of the microbes help plant growth and others can have a detrimental effect and the researchers say a balance among them is essential to guarantee plant health.
Now a team of plant scientists from the University of Nottingham have found that the plant microbiota, which regulates root architecture, can be adapted to allow plants to change their roots to enable them to better take up water and nutrients from the soil in changing environments.
The discovery could help increase food production in eroded, and nutrient-poor soils, where plant performance relies on root function.
“Identifying this alternative microbiota-driven mechanism will allow us to optimise the shape of the root system, using microbial-based approaches, to increase its capacity for water and mineral nutrients uptake, plant anchorage, and also interaction with beneficial soil microbiota in response to climate change,” said Mathieu Gonin, research fellow from the School of Biosciences at the University of Nottingham.
He said the results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science are of “great relevance”.
“Our discoveries expose a new alternative mechanism of root branching regulation, driven by the plant microbiota, which is of great relevance for root branching plasticity in natural ecosystems when microbes are omnipresent,” Mr Gonin said.
“Our findings significantly advance our knowledge on how plants integrate microbial function into mechanisms of root branching into a broad evolutionary context. Our discovery could guide future microbial-based solutions to increase food production in eroded, nutrient-poor and compacted soils, where plant performance relies on root function.”
Last year the latest Ecological Threat Report from international think tank, the Institute for Economics and Peace, warned that 56 per cent (127 of the 228) of the countries it monitors are facing “catastrophic ecological threats”.
It warned that more than 40 countries are facing severe food insecurity and 768 million people are at risk from catastrophic ecological threats, including 41 million in the Middle East.