Growing grain in clear plastic pots may be a way to counter drought, which is expected to become more severe and more frequent worldwide.
The inexpensive and simple technique, which will would allow scientists to see through the pot wall and view the roots of the plant, could lead to grain crops such as wheat that are better adapted to drought conditions.
“Crop improvement for drought tolerance is a priority for feeding the growing human population,” says Cecile Richard, a PhD candidate at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation at University of Queensland.
“Roots allow plants to access water stored in the soil and are crucial for reliable crop production. Even when rain is scarce, water is often still available deep in the soil. By increasing the length and number of roots, we can boost access to water and safeguard the crop.”
The new method, described in the journal Plant Methods, will allow scientists to combine favorable root characteristics in new wheat varieties that could improve the plant’s access to water—resulting in better yield stability and productivity under drought conditions.
“The roots are growing around the wall of the clear pot and it’s possible to measure different characteristics such as the angle and number of roots, based on images captured at ten days after sowing,” she says.
“These characteristics reflect the root growth pattern displayed by wheat in the field, which is important for the plant to access water.”
Previous techniques used for measuring roots had been time consuming and expensive, Richard says.
“Planting wheat seeds around the rim of a clear-plastic pot to measure root characteristics has never been tried before. This method is easy, cheap, and rapid.”
The technique could help boost global wheat production and speed-up selective breeding for drought-tolerant wheat strains.
“We hope to use the clear-pot technique to rapidly discover the genes responsible for these important root characteristics,” Richard says.
The research, funded in part by the Grains Research and Development Corporation of Australia.
* Image of wheat via Shutterstock