Researchers have identified a new gene in barley and wheat that regulates the angle of root growth in soil, paving the way for new grain varieties with deeper roots that are more resistant to drought and nutritional stress, thereby minimizing the consequences of climate change.
Dr. Haoyu (Mia) Lou from the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, who was a joint first author on the paper, explained that the angle at which barley roots go down into the soil allows them to capture water and nutrients from various soil strata.
“Shallow roots enable plants to capture phosphate and surface water, while deeper, straighter roots can stabilise yield by accessing deeper water and nitrate; they can also bury carbon deeper in the soil.”
The team, which included researchers from the UK, Italy, Germany, and the USA, discovered a new gene in barley named Enhanced Gravitropism 1 (EGT1).
By figuring out the genes that regulate root growth angle, Dr. Lou clarified, “we can greatly aid efforts to develop crops that are better adapted to specific soil types and more resilient to fluctuating environmental conditions, helping to mitigate carbon burden and counter the effects of climate change.”
“We have found that mutants lacking function of the EGT1 gene exhibit a steeper growth angle in all classes of roots.
“Remarkably, the roots behave as if they are overly sensitive to gravity – they are unable to grow outwards from the plant, and instead grow straight down.”
Australian farmers are exposed to a variety of risks, but they are especially vulnerable to climatic variability, which has a knock-on effect on commodity pricing.
The eastern and southern eastern regions of the country are particularly hard hit by the severe droughts, which are frequent and last for a long time.
With the price of fertilizer going up and more pressure to make farming more sustainable, it is important to find new crop varieties that are better at absorbing nutrients, carbon, and water.
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