Review: Can smart nutrient applications optimize the plant’s hidden half to improve drought resistance? (Physiol. Plant.)

The root system has three key functions: support/anchoring, uptake of water, and uptake of nutrients. Many questions remain about how roots integrate all of these functions into the architecture of a single system. Here, Bardhan et al. explore whether modifying the nutrient environment (hence root’s foraging responses) can enhance root water uptake capabilities. The authors first describe the plastic (i.e., “moldable, changeable”) responses of roots to water deficit, and then the responses to localized nutrient distributions. The authors then look at the intersection of water/nutrient effects, and how these might be harnessed for improved drought tolerance. For example, a generally low availability of nutrients can promote greater root growth, and deep placement of fertilizers can promote deeper root growth, which can enhance water uptake. Spacing out nutrient application by time might also be employed to enhance water uptake. The available data for these approaches is sparce, so the key message of this article is to encourage further study, motivated by the vast yield losses that occur globally as a consequence of drought. (Summary by Mary Williams @PlantTeaching) Physiol. Plantarum  10.1111/ppl.13332