"We have found significant variation in the complexity of the root systems among various corn genotypes," Bohn says. "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 notes. "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 number of ears, number of kernels per ear, and kernel weight. Efforts are also under way to expand the research initiative to determine if root complexity provides the plant with the ability to grow better under low nitrogen or drought conditions.
"We now have the technology, which includes both hardware and software, to study corn root complexity in a high-throughput manner and link this complexity to the genetics of the plant," Bohn says. "We hope to uncover a wealth of important and useful information being stored in the corn plant's roots."
Source: University of Illinois