BREAD: Improving Water Acquisition in Maize with Root Traits that Reduce the Metabolic Cost of Soil Exploration

  • Lynch, Jonathan Paul (PI)
  • Brown, Kathleen Marie (CoPI)
  • Kaeppler, Shawn M. (CoPI)
  • Kanyama-Phiri, George (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


PI: Jonathan Lynch (Pennsylvania State University)

Co-PIs: Kathleen Brown (Pennsylvania State University), Shawn Kaeppler (University of Wisconsin-Madison), George Kanyama-Phiri (Bunda College of Agriculture, Malawi)

Senior Personnel: Moses Maliro (Bunda College of Agriculture, Malawi)

Drought is a primary constraint to crop production in developing countries. Development of drought tolerant maize varieties will be an important contribution to food security in these regions. The overall goal of the project is to identify and characterize maize varieties with expanded root cortical aerenchyma (RCA) traits, which has been shown to enhance water and nutrient acquisition from soil. The project will characterize the physiological phenotypes of RCA traits from US and African maize germplasm, genetically map the RCA traits, and evaluate selected maize varieties in southern Africa in field stations and through on-farm trials. Such agroecological study in Africa will assess potential RCA trait interactions with nutrient acquisition, radial nutrient transport, mycorrhizal colonization, and susceptibility to root pathogens. In addition to drought, RCA may also enhance acquisition of limiting soil nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen.

Defining and understanding traits enhancing drought tolerance is of great importance to smallholder agriculture in developing countries. This project will provide physiologically validated phenotypic traits, germplasm sources, and molecular markers that can be applied in maize breeding programs towards drought tolerance. The project includes collaboration with plant breeders in Africa and Latin American to ensure connection and transfer of outcomes to smallholder farmers. With respect to training, case studies on African agriculture will be developed for undergraduate courses at the Pennsylvania State University and the University of Wisconsin.

Access to project outcomes

Project outcomes will be accessible through the USDA-ARS National Plant Germplasm System (, the Maize Genetics and Genomics Database MaizeGDB (, and an outreach web site to breeders which is available in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish (

Effective start/end date4/1/103/31/14


  • National Science Foundation: $1,637,140.00


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