In this paper we discuss recent work on the physiological, molecular, and mechanical mechanisms that underlie the capacity of root caps to modulate the properties of the rhizosphere and thereby foster plant growth and development. The root cap initially defines the rhizosphere by its direction of growth, which in turn occurs in response to gradients in soil conditions and gravity. The ability of the root cap to modulate its environment is largely a result of the release of exudates and border cells, and so provides a potential method to engineer the rhizosphere. Factors affecting the release of border cells from the outer surface of the root cap, and function of these cells and their exudates in the rhizosphere, are considered in detail. Release of border cells into the rhizosphere depends on soil matric potential and mechanical impedance, in addition to a host of other environmental conditions. There is good evidence of unidentified feedback signals between border cells and the root cap meristem, and some potential mechanisms are discussed. Root border cells play a significant mechanical role in decreasing frictional resistance to root penetration, and a conceptual model for this function is discussed. Root and border cell exudates influence specific interactions between plant hosts and soil organisms, including pathogenic fungi. The area of exudates and border cell function in soil is an exciting and developing one that awaits the production of appropriate mutant and transgenic lines for further study in the soil environment.
Root caps Rhizosphere Plant growth
BG acknowledges funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The Scottish Crop Research Institute receives grant-in-aid from the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department. MCH acknowledges funding from the United States Department of Energy, Division of Energy Biosciences, the National Science Foundation, and the United States Department of Agriculture.
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