Engineering root architecture using a predictive integrative systems biology approach

This research aims to first identify the genes that regulate root architecture in the simple plant Arabidopsis thaliana, then use this information to manipulate equivalent genes in cereals, with the ultimate goal of altering their root architecture and improving nutrient use efficiency.

This ambitious programme of research relies on a new X-ray based technique—μCT—that can image the 3D arrangement of living roots in soil. We will use the μCT technique to identify Arabidopsis mutants (which lack a specific gene) with an altered arrangement of roots. This will enable us to pinpoint exactly which genes regulate root architecture. Identifying equivalent genes in cereal crops is relatively straight forward since barley and rice are distantly related to Arabidopsis. We will then use advanced genetic techniques to inactivate these barley and rice genes and then examine their consequences on root architecture and nutrient use efficiency.

μCT imaging of Arabidopsis roots in soil. A: shortroot mutant; B: wild type. Images courtesy of Susan Zappala and Stefan Mairhofer

μCT imaging of Arabidopsis roots in soil. A: shortroot mutant; B: wild type. Images courtesy of Susan Zappala and Stefan Mairhofer

Promising rice and barley lines will be made available to professional breeders at the International Rice Research Institute and the James Hutton Institute with the ultimate aim to introgress their modified root traits into elite crop varieties.

A monthly series of seminars from UK/overseas speakers covering a wide range of topics relevant to rhizosphere research will be held throughout the lifetime of the project to which all are welcome.

This research is being led by Malcolm Bennett as part of a 5 year BBSRC Professorial Fellowship.