Multiple integrated root phenotypes are associated with improved drought tolerance

Stephanie P. Klein, Hannah M. Schneider, Alden C. Perkins, Kathleen M. Brown, Jonathan P. Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


To test the hypothesis that multiple integrated root phenotypes would co-optimize drought tolerance, we phenotyped the root anatomy and architecture of 400 mature maize (Zea mays) genotypes under well-watered and water-stressed conditions in the field. We found substantial variation in all 23 root phenes measured. A phenotypic bulked segregant analysis revealed that bulks representing the best and worst performers in the field displayed distinct root phenotypes. In contrast to the worst bulk, the root phenotype of the best bulk under drought consisted of greater cortical aerenchyma formation, more numerous and narrower metaxylem vessels, and thicker nodal roots. Partition-against-medians clustering revealed several clusters of unique root phenotypes related to plant performance under water stress. Clusters associated with improved drought tolerance consisted of phene states that likely enable greater soil exploration by reallocating internal resources to greater root construction (increased aerenchyma content, larger cortical cells, fewer cortical cell files), restrict uptake of water to conserve soil moisture (reduced hydraulic conductance, narrow metaxylem vessels), and improve penetrability of hard, dry soils (thick roots with a larger proportion of stele, and smaller distal cortical cells). We propose that the most drought-tolerant-integrated phenotypes merit consideration as breeding ideotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1011-1025
Number of pages15
JournalPlant physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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