Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology

Ethylene modulates genetic, positional, and nutritional regulation of root plagiogravitropism

Paramita Basu A , Yuan-Ji Zhang B , Jonathan P. Lynch A B and Kathleen M. Brown A B C

A Intercollege Program in Plant Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.

B Department of Horticulture, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Functional Plant Biology 34(1) 41-51
Submitted: 30 August 2006  Accepted: 17 November 2006   Published: 19 January 2007


Plagiogravitropic growth of roots strongly affects root architecture and topsoil exploration, which are important for the acquisition of water and nutrients. Here we show that basal roots of Phaseolus vulgaris L. develop from 2–3 definable whorls at the root–shoot interface and exhibit position-dependent plagiogravitropic growth. The whorl closest to the shoot produces the shallowest roots, and lower whorls produce deeper roots. Genotypes vary in both the average growth angles of roots within whorls and the range of growth angles, i.e. the difference between the shallowest and deepest basal roots within a root system. Since ethylene has been implicated in both gravitropic and edaphic stress responses, we studied the role of ethylene and its interaction with phosphorus availability in regulating growth angles of genotypes with shallow or deep basal roots. There was a weak correlation between growth angle and ethylene production in the basal rooting zone, but ethylene sensitivity was strongly correlated with growth angle. Basal roots emerging from the uppermost whorl were more responsive to ethylene treatment than the lower-most whorl, displaying shallower angles and inhibition of growth. Ethylene sensitivity is greater for shallow than for deep genotypes and for plants grown with low phosphorus compared with those supplied with high phosphorus. Ethylene exposure increased the range of angles, although deep genotypes grown in low phosphorus were less affected. Our results identify basal root whorl number as a novel architectural trait, and show that ethylene mediates regulation of growth angle by position of origin, genotype and phosphorus availability.

Additional keywords: basal roots, gravitropism, Phaseolus vulgaris, phosphorus, root architecture.


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