Much of last week was occupied by my attendance at an eponymous conference in Dundee that we helped sponsor on plant root biology, under the auspices of the International Society for Root Research. I co-chaired one of the sessions and gave a short talk based on a couple of review articles and calculations.
There were a huge number of highlights, not least in meeting so many of this community, but probably the outstanding talk was the opening keynote by Jonathan Lynch, whose wide-ranging review covered everything from molecular genetics and very high-tech measurements of root morphology at different scales (e.g. using laser ablation tomography as the best method for measuring aerenchyma) to the substantial yield improvements that these methods, and some careful thinking, plant breeding and agronomy, were having in a variety of African countries. Effective breeding increases both shallow (and spreading) roots for improved phosphorus uptake and deep roots for improved nitrogen use efficiency and drought tolerance. Roots should be ‘steep, deep and cheap’, said Lynch. I also much enjoyed keynote presentations by Malcom Bennett and Michelle Watt, both vertically integrating quite fundamental molecular knowledge with downstream physiological properties (with the latter showing improvements in water acquisition by deep roots, with 10cm of increased depth in no-till agriculture in Australia translating to 0.5 tonnes per ha increase in wheat grain yields). Overall I learnt a lot about the potential and research needs of this core element of Global Food Security. [...]