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Mech Dev. 2013 Jan;130(1):45-53. doi: 10.1016/j.mod.2012.05.010. Epub 2012 Jun 7.

Natural variation of the root morphological response to nitrate supply in Arabidopsis thaliana.

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Lab. of Plant Physiology and Molecular Genetics, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Campus Plaine CP 242, Bd du Triomphe, 1050 Brussels, Belgium.


Nitrogen fertilization increases crop yield but excessive nitrate use can be a major environmental problem due to soil leaching or greenhouse gas emission. Root traits have been seldom considered as selection criteria to improve Nitrogen Use Efficiency of crops, due to the difficulty of measuring root traits under field conditions. Nonetheless, learning about mechanisms of lateral root (LR) growth stimulation or repression by nitrate availability could help to redesign root system architecture (RSA), a strategy aimed at developing plants with a dense and profound root system and with higher N uptake efficiency. Here, we explored the genetic diversity provided by natural populations of the model species Arabidopsis thaliana to identify potentially adaptive differences in biomass production and root morphology in response to nitrate availability. A core collection of 24 accessions that maximizes the genetic diversity within the species and Col-0 (the reference accession) were grown vertically on agar medium at moderate (N+) nitrate level for 6 days and then transferred to the same condition or to low (N-) nitrate concentration for 7 days. There was a major nutritional effect on the shoot biomass and root to shoot biomass ratio. The variation of the root biomass and RSA traits (primary root length, LRs number, LR mean length, total LRs length and LR densities) was primarily genetically determined. Differences in RSA traits between accessions were somewhat more pronounced at N-. Some accessions produced almost no visible LRs (Pyl-1, N13) at N-, while other produced up to a dozen (Kn-0). Taken together our data illustrate that natural variation exists within Arabidopsis for the studied traits. The identification of RSA ideotypes in the N response will facilitate further analysis of quantitative traits for root morphology.

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