Background and aims: Most plant scientists, in contrast to animal scientists, study only half the organism, namely above-ground stems, leaves, flowers and fruits, and neglect below-ground roots. Yet all acknowledge roots are important for anchorage, water and nutrient uptake, and presumably components of yield. This paper investigates the relationship between domestication, and the root systems of landraces, and the parents of early, mid- and late green-revolution bread wheat cultivars. It compares the root system of bread wheat and 'Veery'-type wheat containing the 1RS translocation from rye.
Methods: Wheat germplasm was grown in large pots in sand culture in replicated experiments. This allowed roots to be washed free to study root characters.
Key results: The three bread wheat parents of early green-revolution wheats have root biomass less than two-thirds the mean of some landrace wheats. Crossing early green-revolution wheat to an F(2) of 'Norin 10' and 'Brevor', further reduced root biomass in mid-generation semi-dwarf and dwarf wheats. Later-generation semi-dwarf wheats show genetic variation for root biomass, but some exhibit further reduction in root size. This is so for some California and UK wheats. The wheat-rye translocation in 'Kavkaz' for the short arm of chromosome 1 (1RS) increased root biomass and branching in cultivars that contained it.
Conclusions: Root size of modern cultivars is small compared with that of landraces. Their root system may be too small for optimum uptake of water and nutrients and maximum grain yield. Optimum root size for grain yield has not been investigated in wheat or most crop plants. Use of 1RS and similar alien translocations may increase root biomass and grain yield significantly in irrigated and rain-fed conditions. Root characters may be integrated into components of yield analysis in wheat. Plant breeders may need to select directly for root characters.