Root plasticity under abiotic stress

Plant Physiol. 2021 Nov 3;187(3):1057-1070. doi: 10.1093/plphys/kiab392.


Abiotic stresses increasingly threaten existing ecological and agricultural systems across the globe. Plant roots perceive these stresses in the soil and adapt their architecture accordingly. This review provides insights into recent discoveries showing the importance of root system architecture (RSA) and plasticity for the survival and development of plants under heat, cold, drought, salt, and flooding stress. In addition, we review the molecular regulation and hormonal pathways involved in controlling RSA plasticity, main root growth, branching and lateral root growth, root hair development, and formation of adventitious roots. Several stresses affect root anatomy by causing aerenchyma formation, lignin and suberin deposition, and Casparian strip modulation. Roots can also actively grow toward favorable soil conditions and avoid environments detrimental to their development. Recent advances in understanding the cellular mechanisms behind these different root tropisms are discussed. Understanding root plasticity will be instrumental for the development of crops that are resilient in the face of abiotic stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Agriculture
  • Cell Plasticity*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Crops, Agricultural / anatomy & histology
  • Crops, Agricultural / genetics
  • Crops, Agricultural / growth & development
  • Crops, Agricultural / physiology*
  • Droughts
  • Floods
  • Hot Temperature
  • Plant Growth Regulators / metabolism*
  • Plant Roots / anatomy & histology
  • Plant Roots / genetics
  • Plant Roots / growth & development
  • Plant Roots / physiology*
  • Soil
  • Stress, Physiological*


  • Plant Growth Regulators
  • Soil