The ability to grow robust plants improves economic output, the ability to feed the world, and the ability to deal with the threat of climate change. The growth of a plant is in turn affected by its root system. Unlike animals, which are typically born with a set number of legs, the number and location of branches that a plant will form is not pre-determined. The architecture of any individual plant depends on the environment it is grown in. This project will improve understanding of the processes occurring within cells that control where and when new lateral roots form. It is already known that lateral root formation is induced on curved sections of roots in one plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana, but the details of why this occurs are still unclear. The project will use molecular genetic tools to test a current model for how lateral roots are induced. Specifically, the idea that induction of lateral root initiation results from increases in cell length, leading to changes in transport of the plant growth regulator auxin, will be tested. The project also will determine the extent to which the formation of lateral roots on curved regions of the root applies to a wide range of plants including some crop plants and commercially grown forest trees. Completing this project will further understanding of how roots grow.
The knowledge gained from this project may inform genetic engineering of economically important plants in the future. It will also create opportunities for about 12 undergraduate students a year to participate in the research, through a combination of honors and independent study positions and through an investigative laboratory course. As the project is part of an international collaboration, these undergraduate students will be actively involved in the global research community, training that will enhance their development as scientists.