There is a huge hidden underground network of plant roots in search of nutrients and water. However, the genetic and molecular mechanisms that govern what parts of the soil roots they explore remain largely unknown. Now, a team of researchers from the Salk Institute, led by Wolfgang Busch, has discovered a gene that determines whether the roots grow deep or just below the surface.
The findings, published in Cell, will allow scientists to develop plants that can help combat climate change. The initiative aims to grow plants with stronger and deeper roots that can store larger amounts of carbon underground for longer to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.
“We are incredibly excited about this first discovery on the way to achieving the objectives of the Plant Use Initiative,” Busch said in a statement. “Reducing the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is one of the great challenges of our time and personally, it is very significant for me to work on a solution. ”
Busch’s team used Arabidopsis thaliana as a model to identify the genes that regulate how auxin works, a hormone that is a key factor in controlling the architecture of the root system. Although auxin was known to influence almost all aspects of plant growth, it was not known what factors determined how it specifically affected the architecture of the root system.
The team discovered that a gene, EXOCYST70A3, regulates the architecture of the root system by controlling the auxin pathway. In addition to allowing the team to develop plants that can grow deeper root systems to finally store more carbon, this discovery could help scientists understand how plants address seasonal variation in rainfall and how to help them adapt to changing climates.