According to the researchers, a complex root structure could lead to a more productive plant. "Root systems with a greater number of branching points allow the plants to be more efficient at taking up water and nutrients from the soil," Bohn said.
The software analysis employed to evaluate the root systems uses fractal dimensions a statistical evaluation of geometrical shapes to provide an indirect estimate of the number of branching points. Not only does the analysis of the roots provide an estimate of root complexity, it also allows the researchers to correlate differences in the complexity of the root systems with the plants' genetic makeup.
"We have found significant variation in the complexity of the root systems among various corn genotypes," Bohn said. "We also discovered regions in the maize genome that are responsible for the inheritance of root complexity."
These findings have allowed the researchers to identify variations in root systems due to the plant's genetics, beyond the variations resulting from environmental factors such as weather, soil type, and available nutrients.
"With this new technology, we have found that more than half of the variation we observe for root complexity can be explained by genetic differences among plants," Bohn said. "This is allowing us to separate corn genotypes and identify the genes responsible for the plant's root structure."
An important question is: how does root complexity transfer into productivity or how much complexity is really needed?
To unlock information regarding the importance of root complexity on plant performance, the researchers are looking at 10 to 15 above-ground traits of corn plants with varying root complexities. Traits being examined include plant architectural traits like leaf length and width, leaf angle, and yield components like n
|Contact: LeAnn Ormsby|
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences