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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Genotypic differences in systemic root responses to mechanical obstacles

Colombi, Tino; Eitelberg, Leah; Kolb, Evenlyne; et al.; et al.


As roots grow through the soil to forage for water and nutrients, they encounter mechanical obstacles such as patches of dense soil and stones that locally impede root growth. Here, we investigated hitherto poorly understood systemic responses of roots to localised root impedance. Seedlings of two wheat genotypes were grown in hydroponics and exposed to impenetrable obstacles constraining the vertical growth of the primary or a single seminal root. We deployed high-resolution in vivo imaging to quantify temporal dynamics of root elongation rate, helical root movement, and root growth direction. The two genotypes exhibited distinctly different patterns of systemic responses to localised root impedance, suggesting different strategies to cope with obstacles, namely stress avoidance and stress tolerance. Shallower growth of unconstrained seminal roots and more pronounced helical movement of unconstrained primary and seminal roots upon localised root impedance characterised the avoidance strategy shown by one genotype. Stress tolerance to localised root impedance, as exhibited by the other genotype, was indicated by relatively fast elongation of primary roots and steeper seminal root growth. These different strategies highlight that the effects of mechanical obstacles on spatiotemporal root growth patterns can differ within species, which may have major implications for resource acquisition and whole-plant growth.


in vivo imaging; mechanical obstacles; root circumnutation; root elongation; root growth direction; soil heterogeneity

Published in

Physiologia Plantarum
2023, Volume: 175, number: 6, article number: e14094