Title : Growing better roots for producing food and cleaning contaminated environments
The current world-wide research interest in optimising root systems for particular environments (from drying soils to those contaminated with heavy metals and other pollutants) is driven by the realisation that increase in food production is unlikely to come from bringing good fertile soils into agricultural production because of paucity of such soils that remained in the world. Instead, poor fertility and/or slightly contaminated soils will need to sustain profitable food production, and contaminated environments will need to be rehabilitated to allow desirable human use for recreation and amenity. Optimal root systems are essential for all these future land uses; such root systems are different from those that served the food-production industries well in the past (designed to optimise the harvestable yield on the assumption of optimal soil conditions diminishing the importance of root systems). A range of theoretical and experimental approaches aimed at optimising root systems for given environments will be discussed, from the linkages between genes and root traits (ie. focusing on the primary effects of genes that directly mediate small-scale phenomena such as the growth of meristems and specific uptake processes) to the large-scale phenomena that drive the functional efficiency of root systems, such as the 3-D distribution of root systems in soil, and how this distribution develops in time. Production of food with high micronutrient content and free of cadmium contamination will be emphasised.