A new study has discovered a new mechanism for plant branching.

For the first time, researchers have shown how a plant’s ability to better handle environmental stress conditions is aided by a mechanism that regulates root development.

An innovative regulatory mechanism that demonstrates how the plant microbiota cooperates with plant roots to regulate branching has been discovered by a team of plant scientists from the University of Nottingham. The results have been reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In natural ecosystems, the microbiota, which includes bacteria, fungi, viruses, and oomycetes, coexists with a wide variety of plants. A balance between these microbes, some of which promote plant growth and others of which can be harmful, is necessary to ensure the health of the plant.

“In order to boost the root system’s capacity for water and mineral nutrient uptake, plant anchoring, and interaction with beneficial soil bacteria in response to climate change, it will be necessary to identify this alternate microbiota-driven process.”

 Mathieu Gonin, research fellow from the School of Biosciences at the University of Nottingham.

Researchers discovered that the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana’s root architecture is controlled by the plant microbiota, enabling plants to adapt their roots to better absorb water and nutrients from the soil in changing environments.

This discovery makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how plants incorporate microbial function into mechanisms of root branching. It may also serve as a model for future microbial-based approaches to increasing food production in eroded and nutrient-poor soils where plant performance is dependent 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 findings are extremely important, Mathieu continued, 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 late-stage development.

More information: Mathieu Gonin et al, Plant microbiota controls an alternative root branching regulatory mechanism in plants, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2301054120

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