Background: Water availability is a major limiting factor for wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) production in rain-fed agricultural systems worldwide. Root system architecture has important functional implications for the timing and extent of soil water extraction, yet selection for root architectural traits in breeding programs has been limited by a lack of suitable phenotyping methods. The aim of this research was to develop low-cost high-throughput phenotyping methods to facilitate selection for desirable root architectural traits. Here, we report two methods, one using clear pots and the other using growth pouches, to assess the angle and the number of seminal roots in wheat seedlings- two proxy traits associated with the root architecture of mature wheat plants.
Results: Both methods revealed genetic variation for seminal root angle and number in the panel of 24 wheat cultivars. The clear pot method provided higher heritability and higher genetic correlations across experiments compared to the growth pouch method. In addition, the clear pot method was more efficient - requiring less time, space, and labour compared to the growth pouch method. Therefore the clear pot method was considered the most suitable for large-scale and high-throughput screening of seedling root characteristics in crop improvement programs.
Conclusions: The clear-pot method could be easily integrated in breeding programs targeting drought tolerance to rapidly enrich breeding populations with desirable alleles. For instance, selection for narrow root angle and high number of seminal roots could lead to deeper root systems with higher branching at depth. Such root characteristics are highly desirable in wheat to cope with anticipated future climate conditions, particularly where crops rely heavily on stored soil moisture at depth, including some Australian, Indian, South American, and African cropping regions.
Keywords: Adaptation; Drought; Root angle; Root number; Wheat breeding.