Crop domestication’s impact on root behavior and soil carbon sequestration

Decreased soil carbon sequestration may have been an unfortunate consequence of crop domestication. Prof. Eric J Bishop von Wettberg is investigating whether early farmers inadvertently changed root behavior to the detriment of the climate. View Halo Profile >>

Tell us about your research.

We are testing the hypothesis that during crop domestication there has been inadvertent selection for shifted root behavior, including reduced or shifted investment in root exudates. Root exudates are important for root movement, root relations with symbiotic soil microbes, and nutrient uptake among other things. In an era where sequestering carbon into soils is a key societal need, increasing root exudation is an important way to address climate change. If selection has inadvertently shifted exudation, inclusion of diverse material in pre-breeding can improve soil carbon sequestration in future crops.

In an era where sequestering carbon into soils is a key societal need, increasing root exudation is an important way to address climate change.

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

Not only is about half of every plant hidden belowground, but 20-40% of the carbon taken in my plants through photosynthesis is released from roots as exudates, which are small organic molecules. In this study, we are examining whether patterns of root exudation were inadvertently changed by early farmers and breeders, who selected crops exclusively for their aboveground parts. By growing plants in richer agricultural soils, we think crops have been selected to have reduced root systems, decreasing their capacity to tolerate some stresses in their soil and reducing the amount of carbon they sequester from the atmosphere into soils.

Why did you choose this area of research?

We chose this research for its potential to contribute to solutions for the excess CO2 emissions driving climate change.

In this study, we are examining whether patterns of root exudation were inadvertently changed by early farmers and breeders, who selected crops exclusively for their aboveground parts.

How could your Grants4Ag project someday impact #healthforall #hungerfornone?

We hope our work will contribute to the development of future crops that provide both nutritious food and simultaneously contribute one partial solution to climate change.