Plant and Soil

, Volume 260, Issue 1, pp 47–57

Root traits as tools for creating phosphorus efficient crop varieties

  • Tara Singh Gahoonia
  • Niels Erik Nielsen

DOI: 10.1023/B:PLSO.0000030168.53340.bc

Cite this article as:
Singh Gahoonia, T. & Nielsen, N.E. Plant and Soil (2004) 260: 47. doi:10.1023/B:PLSO.0000030168.53340.bc


This paper provides a brief assessment of the genetic variation in root properties (root morphology, including root hairs), mycorrhizal symbiosis, uptake kinetics parameters and root-induced changes (pH, organic acids and acid phosphatase) in the rhizosphere of various crop species and their genotypes and then briefly discusses the opportunities and challenges of using such knowledge for enhancing P efficiency of future crop genotypes by genetic means. Wide genotypic variation and heritability of root morphology, root hair length and density and thereby P acquisition provide opportunities for selection and breeding for root characteristics for increasing P acquisition. The progress is challenged by the concerns of high carbon cost of larger root systems and by the lack of cost effective methods to determine root length of a large number of genotypes under field conditions. The carbon cost of root hairs is low. Furthermore, low cost methods now exist to compare root hair formation of field grown genotypes. The development and application of sophisticated methods has advanced our knowledge on the role of mycorrhizal symbiosis in P acquisition and also on the molecular basis of fungi and plant interactions. However, extensive studies to explore genotypic variation in mycorrhizal responsiveness are rare, which makes it difficult to assess, how mycorrhizal symbiosis can be manipulated through breeding efforts. The promising variation found in P uptake kinetics parameters of crop genotypes in few studies indicates that more genotypes may be screened by relatively simple nutrient solution culture techniques. The genetic manipulation of the overall differences in cation-anion uptake, which is the main cause of rhizosphere pH change, may be difficult. For manipulation of rhizosphere pH, agronomic measures such as applications of ammonium or nitrate fertilisers may be more useful than breeding approaches. Also it seems difficult to assess what kind of genetic analysis should be performed to support the breeding efforts. Phosphorus mobilisation effect of pH depends on soil P compounds, therefore will differ with soil type. Both the enhanced release of organic acids and higher acid phosphatase activity in the rhizosphere may be useful for increasing P acquisition from inorganic and organic P pools, respectively. Modification of these traits by genetic means should be considered. For successful breeding programmes, the role of various root traits needs to be targeted in an integrated manner and then methods need to be developed for studying their importance under natural soil conditions, so that the genotypic variation can be explored and their ecological significance in P acquisition can be established.

breeding mycorrhiza organic acids phosphatase root hairs root morphology 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tara Singh Gahoonia
    • 1
  • Niels Erik Nielsen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural Sciences, Plant Nutrition and Soil Fertility LaboratoryThe Royal Veterinary and Agricultural UniversityFrederiksberg, CopenhagenDenmark