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Ann Bot. 2019 Feb 12. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcz011. [Epub ahead of print]

Estimating the importance of maize root hairs in low phosphorus conditions and under drought.

Author information

Institute of Crop Science, Nutritional Crop Physiology, University of Hohenheim, Fruwirthstr. 20, 70593 Stuttgart, Germany.
Crop Functional Genomics, INRES, University of Bonn, Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 144, 53113 Bonn, Germany.


Background and Aims:

Root hairs are single-cell extensions of the epidermis that face into the soil and increase the root-soil contact surface. Root hairs enlarge the rhizosphere radially and are very important for taking up water and sparingly soluble nutrients, such as the poorly soil-mobile phosphate. In order to quantify the importance of root hairs for maize, a mutant and the corresponding wild type were compared.


The rth2 maize mutant with very short root hairs was assayed for growth and phosphorus (P) acquisition in a slightly alkaline soil with low P and limited water supply in the absence of mycorrhization and with ample P supply.

Key Results:

Root and shoot growth was additively impaired under P deficiency and drought. Internal P concentrations declined with reduced water and P supply, whereas micronutrients (iron, zinc) were little affected. The very short root hairs in rth2 did not affect internal P concentrations, but the P content of juvenile plants was halved under combined stress. The rth2 plants had more fine roots and increased specific root length, but P mobilization traits (root organic carbon and phosphatase exudation) differed little.


The results confirm the importance of root hairs for maize P uptake and content, but not for internal P concentrations. Furthermore, the performance of root hair mutants may be biased by secondary effects, such as altered root growth.


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