Quantifying root and shoot growth in wheat using X-ray Computed Tomography

How are relationships between root and shoot growth incluenced by drought and soil type in wheat?

The likelihood of increased drought associated with environmental change represents a significant obstacle for enhancing food security due to its impact on crop development and yield. Roots play a key role in water and nutrient supply for plants. However, the physiochemical and biological status of the surrounding soil can have a significant effect on their activity, particularly the complex and relatively unexplored relationship between root development and soil pore structure. There is a need to determine the effects of water deficit on the links between root growth and shoot function. In particular, there is a lack of knowledge on relationships between 3D root structure, leaf gas exchange traits and growth and whether genetic variation exists among wheat genotypes that will enable improved photosynthesis, water use efficiency and drought tolerance.

An example of 3D root architecture grown in a clay loam soil under decreasing water content (75% of field capacity, 50% of field capacity and 25% of field capacity). Image credit: Khalil et al.

In their new study published in AoBP, Khalil et al. used 3D X-ray imaging to measure root architecture traits in wheat under different drying regimes and across two soil types along with traditional photosynthetic measurements of plant aerial tissues. Root and shoot growth were more affected by soil water content than photosynthesis related characteristics under water deficit conditions. With incidences of drought likely to increase, identification of wheat cultivars that are more tolerant of these conditions is important. More studies that consider the impact of water stress on both plant shoots and roots, and the role of the soil pore system offer considerable potential in supporting these efforts.

Researcher highlight

Aveen Khalil grew up in Duhok, Iraq. In 2010, she was awarded an M.Sc. in irrigation at the University of Duhok and in 2011 moved to UK to study a PhD in soil science in the Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Department, School of Bioscience, University of Nottingham, UK. Aveen is currently working at the University of Duhok as a lecturer and researcher in the Soil and Water Sciences Department of the College of Agricultural Engineering Sciences. She is also a member of scientific committee in the Soil and Water Sciences Department. Aveen is interested in irrigation and her research focuses on plant and soil interactions and their responses to environmental stresses.

William Salter

William (Tam) Salter is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the University of Sydney. He has a bachelor degree in Ecological Science (Hons) from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in plant ecophysiology from the University of Sydney. Tam is interested in the identification and elucidation of plant traits that could be useful for ecosystem resilience and future food security under global environmental change. He is also very interested in effective scientific communication.

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