Campus News

Plant biologist discusses adapting roots for future food security

Alexander Bucksch, associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ plant biology department, spoke with ScienceDaily about a recently published paper on root adaptation.

Often, people think of plant health in flowers and leaves, but the unseen root structures of many plants are where the real magic happens. With changing environmental conditions, plant roots are at risk and need to do something to save themselves.

“When there is a problem in the world, humans can move. But what does the plant do?” Buckshch asked. “It says, ‘Let’s alter our genome to survive.’ It evolves.”

Bucksch has introduced a new type of 3D imaging software, DIRT/3D (Digital Imaging of Root Traits).

“Biologists primarily look at the one rot structure that is most common – what we call the dominant root phenotype,” Bucksch explained. “But people forgot about all of the other phenotypes. They might have a function and a role to fulfill. But we just call it noise. Our system will look into that noise in 3D and see what functions these roots might have.”

The software creates a 3D point cloud that represents the nodes and whorl of a root structure, a digital carbon copy that can be studied.

“The potential, with DIRT/3D, is helping us live on a hotter planet and managing to have enough food,” Bucksch said. “That is always the elephant in the room. There could be a point where this planet can’t produce enough food for everybody anymore, and I hope we, as a science community, can avoid this point by developing better drought adapted and C02 sequestering plants.”