, Volume 235, Issue 3, pp 443-452
Date: 01 Feb 2012

Root phototropism: from dogma to the mechanism of blue light perception

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In roots, the “hidden half” of all land plants, gravity is an important signal that determines the direction of growth in the soil. Hence, positive gravitropism has been studied in detail. However, since the 19th century, the response of roots toward unilateral light has also been analyzed. Based on studies on white mustard (Sinapis alba) seedlings, botanists have concluded that all roots are negatively phototropic. This “Sinapis-dogma” was refuted in a seminal study on root phototropism published a century ago, where it was shown that less then half of the 166 plant species investigated behave like S. alba, whereas 53% displayed no phototropic response at all. Here we summarize the history of research on root phototropism, discuss this phenomenon with reference to unpublished data on garden cress (Lepidium sativum) seedlings, and describe the effects of blue light on the negative bending response in Thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). The ecological significance of root phototropism is discussed and the relationships between gravi- and phototropism are outlined, with respect to the starch-statolith-theory of gravity perception. Finally, we present an integrative model of gravi- and blue light perception in the root tip of Arabidopsis seedlings. This hypothesis is based on our current view of the starch-statolith-concept and light sensing via the cytoplasmic red/blue light photoreceptor phytochrome A and the plasma membrane-associated blue light receptor phototropin-1. Open questions and possible research agendas for the future are summarized.

This article is dedicated to the memory of the German plant biologist Andreas Sievers (1931–2009), a pioneer in the study of root gravitropism.