Winter Seminar Series: Malcolm Bennett

Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 4:00pm


Malcolm Bennett

University of Nottingham, UK

Roots: the hidden half of plant adaptive responses to water stress

Water is essential to life, human health, food production and economic activity. The growth in global population and manufacturing combined with the impact of climate change are placing unsustainable demands on water resources, necessitating the development of better integrated approaches to deliver ‘water resilience.’ Fostering water resilience means supporting innovation and trialling new technologies and approaches. For example, agriculture currently uses >70% of global water resources, yet researchers still do not fully understand how crops sense and adapt to water stress. Such information would help deliver innovative solutions, such as engineering improved water use efficient crops, to substantially reduce agriculture’s ‘water filled footprint’.

Roots play a crucial role in plant adaptation to water stress, yet have remained the ‘hidden half’ of plant biology due to researchers inability to non-invasively visualize roots in their natural soil environment. We have developed an interdisciplinary research approach to visualise roots directly in soil using X-ray based imaging techniques and software (reviewed in Atkinson et al, 2014 Plant Physiology, 166, 538-550). This innovative approach has enabled our interdisciplinary team to characterise new and existing root adaptive mechanisms to water availability such as hydropatterning and hydrotropism (Bao et al, 2014 PNAS 111, 9319-9324; Dietrich et al, in prep). In my presentation I will initially describe our latest insights into the underlying molecular and cellular basis of these important adaptive root-water responses. I will conclude by describing the ERC-funded Hounsfield CT Facility, a new roboticised root-imaging platform, designed to conduct fundamental and applied root and rhizosphere related research and help deliver crops with improved water stress resistance.