InvestigationThese underground networks required to invade, long neglected, life are now under the scrutiny of researchers. Objective: To enable environmentally respecting agriculture by focusing on root systems capable of optimally utilizing soil natural resources.
They make a “hidden face of plants”, but the image is so overused that we hesitate to use it. However, any cliché bears the truth of it. “In agronomy, the root system remains a blind spot for plant improvement”, Notes Christophe Maurel from CNRS-Inrae. We are at the Montpellier SuperAgro campus in mid-April. Nature is turning green again, the air is springtime … and we enter laboratories dedicated to the study of parts of these underground plants.
Rooted, forgotten in big agricultural science? In the last ten years, their neglect has begun to diminish. Facing ecological damage due to intensive agriculture, it has become necessary to promote a rational farming method. “So far, we have mainly selected plant varieties that respond well to fertilizers. And we focused on the aerial parts of cultivated plants. Now, we say to ourselves that we can grow plants Can select the basic traits that consume less fertilizer and pesticides ”, Laurent Laplace explains. Researchers working at the Institute for Research in Development (IRD) in Montpellier are happy with this “paradigm shift”. This is evidenced by the upcoming launch of a European call for projects. Its goal: to finance the discovery of basic traits suited to environmentally responsible agriculture.
Roots represent about one third of the plant’s biomass. “A little less in rich soil, a little more in a poor soil”, Specifies Professor Marc-Andre Celos of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. His two main functions have been known for a long time: fastening the plant to the soil and an essential part of its nutrition. While the leaves produce photosynthesis (from carbon dioxide and solar energy), the sugars that serve as fuel for the plant, the roots, they pump water and minerals from the soil. Inevitable – Support in this, as we shall see, by fungi and bacteria.
They are sometimes referred to as the “inverted digestive system”, but they are much more than this. “The root system has an excellent ability to modify its growth according to the signs seen in the soil”, Christophe cheers Maurel. “These are very plastic structures, Adds Laurent Laplace. Because they anchor the plant in one place throughout their life, they must adapt to this changing and heterogeneous environment ie soil. They do this by modifying their development. “ A reverse, “The roots are also able to modify the soil to make it more favorable to the plant”.
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