The roots of Thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) produce at least 50 previously undescribed molecules, all belonging to a class of chemical compounds known as triterpenes, researchers have discovered.
The compounds play a major role in shaping the microbial communities that live in and around the plant roots, optimising nutrient and water availability.
The cress is far from unique in this ability, but provides a well described research model.
The latest study, by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the John Innes Centre in the UK, goes some way towards explaining why many plant species expend as much as 20% of their energy budget on synthesising root chemicals.
It also provides some interesting leads for further research aimed at improving agricultural practice.
“We assume that the plant is shaping the root microbiota for its own benefit,” says lead author Anne Osbourn.
“If we can understand what the plant is doing and what kind of microbes are responding to it and what the benefits are then we may be able to use that knowledge to design improved crops or to engineer the root microbiome for enhanced productivity and sustainability and to move away from fertilisers and pesticides.”
The research is published in the journal Science.