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Keywords:

  • aeroponics;
  • architecture;
  • corn;
  • crown root;
  • lateral root;
  • root hair;
  • second-order lateral root;
  • stochastic variation

ABSTRACT

There is interest in discovering root traits associated with acclimation to nutrient stress. Large root systems, such as in adult maize, have proven difficult to be phenotyped comprehensively and over time, causing target traits to be missed. These challenges were overcome here using aeroponics, a system where roots grow in the air misted with a nutrient solution. Applying an agriculturally relevant degree of low nitrogen (LN) stress, 30-day-old plants responded by increasing lengths of individual crown roots (CRs) by 63%, compensated by a 40% decline in CR number. LN increased the CR elongation rate rather than lengthening the duration of CR growth. Only younger CR were significantly responsive to LN stress, a novel finding. LN shifted the root system architectural balance, increasing the lateral root (LR)-to-CR ratio, adding ∼70 m to LR length. LN caused a dramatic increase in second-order LR density, not previously reported in adult maize. Despite the near-uniform aeroponics environment, LN induced increased variation in the relative lengths of opposing LR pairs. Large-scale analysis of root hairs (RHs) showed that LN decreased RH length and density. Time-course experiments suggested the RH responses may be indirect consequences of decreased biomass/demand under LN. These results identify novel root traits for genetic dissection.