Optimizing root system architecture can overcome yield limitations in crop plants caused by water or nutrient shortages. Classic breeding approaches are difficult because the trait is governed by many genes and is difficult to score. We generated transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) plants with enhanced root-specific degradation of the hormone cytokinin, a negative regulator of root growth. These transgenic plants form a larger root system, whereas growth and development of the shoot are similar. Elongation of the primary root, root branching, and root biomass formation were increased by up to 60% in transgenic lines, increasing the root-to-shoot ratio. We thus demonstrated that a single dominant gene could regulate a complex trait, root growth. Moreover, we showed that cytokinin regulates root growth in a largely organ-autonomous fashion that is consistent with its dual role as a hormone with both paracrine and long-distance activities. Transgenic plants had a higher survival rate after severe drought treatment. The accumulation of several elements, including S, P, Mn, Mg, Zn, as well as Cd from a contaminated soil, was significantly increased in shoots. Under conditions of sulfur or magnesium deficiency, leaf chlorophyll content was less affected in transgenic plants, demonstrating the physiological relevance of shoot element accumulation. Our approach might contribute to improve drought tolerance, nutrient efficiency, and nutrient content of crop plants.
(Via The Plant Cell current issue.)