Capturing in-field root system dynamics with RootTracker.
Optimizing root system architecture offers a promising approach to developing stress tolerant cultivars in the face of climate change, as root systems are critical for water and nutrient uptake as well as mechanical stability. However, breeding for optimal root system architecture has been hindered by the difficulty in measuring root growth in the field. Here, we describe the RootTracker, a technology that employs impedance touch sensors to monitor in-field root growth over time. Configured in a cylindrical, window shutter-like fashion around a planted seed, 264 electrodes are individually charged multiple times over the course of an experiment. Signature changes in the measured capacitance and resistance readings indicate when a root has touched or grown close to an electrode. Using the RootTracker, we have measured root system dynamics of commercial maize (Zea mays) hybrids growing in both typical Midwest field conditions and under different irrigation regimes. We observed rapid responses of root growth to water deficits and found evidence for a "priming response" in which an early water deficit causes more and deeper roots to grow at later time periods. Genotypic variation among hybrid maize lines in their root growth in response to drought indicated a potential to breed for root systems adapted for different environments. Thus, the RootTracker is able to capture changes in root growth over time in response to environmental perturbations.
Aguilar, JJ; Moore, M; Johnson, L; Greenhut, RF; Rogers, E; Walker, D; O'Neil, F; Edwards, JL; Thystrup, J; Farrow, S; Windle, JB; Benfey, PN
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