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Maize root responses to drought stress depend on root class and axial position


In this study we tested the hypotheses that root classes would exhibit distinctive anatomical and architectural responses to drought stress, and that those responses would vary along the root axes. The root systems of four maize (Zea mays L.) sweet corn genotypes designated SC1, SC2, SC3 and SC4 were phenotyped under well-watered and drought treatments in greenhouse mesocosms, permitting increasing stratification of moisture availability as the drought progressed. Anatomical and architectural responses to drought were evaluated for each root class. Lignin distribution was assessed by image processing of UV-illuminated root cross-sections acquired by laser ablation tomography. The two cultivars with less biomass reduction under drought, SC3 and SC4, substantially enhanced lateral root development along the apical segments of axial roots when plants were grown with drought stress. These segments grew into the deeper part of the mesocosm where more moisture was available. Apical segments of the axial and large lateral roots from drought-stressed plants were thicker and had greater theoretical axial water conductance than basal segments, especially in SC3 and SC4. Basal segments of crown roots of SC3 and SC4 showed increased lignification of the stele under drought. Root anatomical and architectural responses to drought are complex and vary among cultivars and root classes, and along root axes. Drought-induced proliferation of lateral roots on apical segments of axial roots would be expected to enhance deep water acquisition, while lignification of axial roots could help preserve axial water transport.

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We are so thankful to prof. Dr. Kathleen Brown, PSU, PA, USA for her great support and help during the conduction of this work. The authors are also grateful to the kind help granted by Prof. Dr. Haneya El Etriby, the former president of Agricultural Research Center (ARC), Egypt.


Funding was provided by US-Egypt Binational Fulbright Commission, Cairo office Egypt.

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Correspondence to Mohamed Y. Hazman.

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Hazman, M.Y., Kabil, F.F. Maize root responses to drought stress depend on root class and axial position. J Plant Res 135, 105–120 (2022).

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  • Drought
  • Laser ablation tomography
  • Root anatomy
  • Root architecture
  • Zea mays L.
  • Lignin