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Found extremely rare cells that may help us understand how plants make aerial roots

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Scientists from the Israeli University have discovered the secret mechanism that allows aerial roots to grow. This is how it works.

The research, which was reported in the peer-reviewed journal Science, uncovered the extremely rare cells that, when the conditions are right, induce roots to develop in the air by disintegrating individual cell stems.

“Superficially, these look like other plant cells, which is why they evaded detection for so long,” highlighted Prof. Idan Efroni, the lead author “We used new techniques to closely screen thousands of cells, one-by-one. We knew that by finding the cells that can make roots, we would be able to look for the ‘switch’ that turns them on.”

Dr. Naama Gil-Yarom, a research associate at the university lab, was lucky to grab the development of such an organ, called a meristem, and then pinpoint the genes that are active at the changeover point by meticulously scrutinizing the plant’s organs that generate root cells. In a subsequent study, HU PhD student Moutasem Omary demonstrated the genes’ participation in aerial root growth by eliminating them. These plants were unable to develop any roots at all.

Several plants have their roots exposed for a variety of reasons, including climbing (vines such as ivy) or supporting huge branches (like trees in the family Ficus).

The study followed the evolution of these genes and discovered that several significant crops, such as sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and rice, all have the ability to produce aerial roots.

“The ability to make aerial roots is highly advantageous to the plant,” added Efroni. “In the event that the underground roots are flooded or damaged, the plant can grow aerial roots and survive the assault.”

The findings of the study will enable more efficient and effective grafting. Grafted plants have one plant’s root system but above-ground system of another. Farmers may now grow plants that are more resistant to soil diseases. Until now, if the top half of the graft grew an aerial root system, the grafting would be rendered worthless and more susceptible to disease.

Image Credit: HEBREW UNIVERSITY

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