Grasses suppress shoot-borne roots to conserve water during drought.
Many important crops are members of the Poaceae family, which develop root systems characterized by a high degree of root initiation from the belowground basal nodes of the shoot, termed the crown. Although this postembryonic shoot-borne root system represents the major conduit for water uptake, little is known about the effect of water availability on its development. Here we demonstrate that in the model C4 grass Setaria viridis, the crown locally senses water availability and suppresses postemergence crown root growth under a water deficit. This response was observed in field and growth room environments and in all grass species tested. Luminescence-based imaging of root systems grown in soil-like media revealed a shift in root growth from crown-derived to primary root-derived branches, suggesting that primary root-dominated architecture can be induced in S. viridis under certain stress conditions. Crown roots of Zea mays and Setaria italica, domesticated relatives of teosinte and S. viridis, respectively, show reduced sensitivity to water deficit, suggesting that this response might have been influenced by human selection. Enhanced water status of maize mutants lacking crown roots suggests that under a water deficit, stronger suppression of crown roots actually may benefit crop productivity.
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