Background: Root architectural and anatomical phenotypes are important for adaptation to drought. Many rice-growing regions face increasing water scarcity. This study describes drought responses of 11 Egyptian rice cultivars with emphasis on plastic root responses that may enhance drought adaptation. Results: Eleven Egyptian rice cultivars were phenotyped for root architectural and anatomical traits after 6 weeks growth in soil mesocosms under well-watered conditions. Four of these cultivars were more intensively phenotyped under progressive drought stress in mesocosms, using a system where more moisture was available at depth than near the surface. In response to drought stress, all cultivars significantly reduced nodal root number while increasing large lateral root branching density and total lateral root length in the deepest portions of the mesocosm, where moisture was available. Nodal root cross-sectional area, but not stele area, was reduced by drought stress, especially in the basal segments of the root, and the number of late metaxylem vessels was reduced in only one cultivar. Alterations in deposition of lignin were detected by UV illumination from laser ablation tomography, enhanced by digital staining, and confirmed with standard histochemical methods. In well-watered plants, the sclerenchyma and endodermis were heavily lignified, and lignin was also visible throughout the epidermis and cortex. Under drought stress, very little lignin was detected in the outer cell layers and none in the cortex of nodal roots, but lignin deposition was enhanced in the stele. Root anatomical phenes, including cross-section area and metaxylem vessel number and lignin deposition varied dramatically along large lateral root axes under drought stress, with increasing diameter and less lignification of the stele in successive samples taken from the base to the root apex. Conclusions: Root architectural and anatomical traits varied significantly among a set of Egyptian cultivars. Most traits were plastic, i.e. changed significantly with drought treatment, and, in many cases, plasticity was cultivar-dependent. These phenotypic alterations may function to enhance water uptake efficiency. Increased large lateral root branching in the deep soil should maintain water acquisition, while water transport during drought should be secured with a more extensively lignified stele.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Soil Science
- Plant Science