Root anatomical phenes predict root penetration ability and biomechanical properties in maize (Zea Mays)

Joseph G. Chimungu, Kenneth W. Loades, Jonathan P. Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


The ability of roots to penetrate hard soil is important for crop productivity but specific root phenes contributing to this ability are poorly understood. Root penetrability and biomechanical properties are likely to vary in the root system dependent on anatomical structure. No information is available to date on the influence of root anatomical phenes on root penetrability and biomechanics. Root penetration ability was evaluated using a wax layer system. Root tensile and bending strength were evaluated in plant roots grown in the greenhouse and in the field. Root anatomical phenes were found to be better predictors of root penetrability than root diameter per se and associated with smaller distal cortical region cell size. Smaller outer cortical region cells play an important role in stabilizing the root against ovalization and reducing the risk of local buckling and collapse during penetration, thereby increasing root penetration of hard layers. The use of stele diameter was found to be a better predictor of root tensile strength than root diameter. Cortical thickness, cortical cell count, cortical cell wall area and distal cortical cell size were stronger predictors of root bend strength than root diameter. Our results indicate that root anatomical phenes are important predictors for root penetrability of high-strength layers and root biomechanical properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3151-3162
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of experimental botany
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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