Scientists have figured out how to genetically engineer plants to grow deeper roots, potentially improving carbon storage, drought resistance, and flood protection. This research comes as part of the Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative, which seeks to use plants to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the ground.
When a plant grows a deeper root system, it helps store carbon deeper underground in more stable soil. Controlling how a plant’s roots grow, though, is not as easy as it sounds. Scientists have long known that the plant hormone auxin is responsible for root growth, but didn’t know exactly how it affected the shape of the root system. The research, published today in Cell, used the model plant thale cress (Arabidopsis) to identify a specific gene—EXOCYST70A3—that controls the way roots grow by altering how much auxin gets to the root tip. This gene, or highly similar ones, is present in all plants, opening doors for researchers to engineer nearly any plant to grow deeper roots.
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