University of Nottingham plant scientists have uncovered a brand-new regulatory mechanism demonstrating how plant microbiota collaborate with plant roots to regulate plant branching. For the first time, the research results, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, explain how this process helps plants more effectively handle stressful environmental situations.
The microbiota, a diverse group of microscopic creatures that include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and oomycetes, coexists with plants in natural habitats. While some of these bacteria support plant development, others may be harmful. To ensure plant health, they must be in balance.
In this work, researchers discovered that in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, the plant microbiota influences root architecture, enabling plants to modify their roots to more effectively absorb water and nutrients from the soil in different situations. This finding substantially contributes to our understanding of how plants use microbial activity in root-branching processes. It may also help shape the development of future microbial-based strategies to boost food production in eroded and nutrient-poor soils, where plant performance depends on root function.
According to Mathieu Gonin, a research fellow from the School of Biosciences at the University of Nottingham, “identifying this alternative microbiota-driven mechanism will allow us to optimize the shape of the root system, using microbial-based approaches, to increase its capacity for water and mineral nutrient uptake, plant anchorage, and also interaction with beneficial soil microbiota in response to climate change.”
The Leverhulme Trust, the Royal Society, and the University of Nottingham Future Food Beacon of Excellence funded this study. The findings are significant, according to Gonin, because they may serve as a springboard for further research into the interactions among the other distinct regulatory branches of root branching (auxin, nutrients, and immune system), which are involved in integrating environmental cues, both biotic and abiotic, into the endogenous developmental program to modulate gene expression.
This research is a significant step in understanding the complex interactions between plants and microorganisms in natural ecosystems. It opens up exciting possibilities for developing new approaches to sustainable agriculture.