Genetic and genomic approaches in model organisms have advanced our understanding of root biology over the last decade. Recently, however, systems biology and modeling have emerged as important approaches, as our understanding of root regulatory pathways has become more complex and interpreting pathway outputs has become less intuitive. To relate root genotype to phenotype, we must move beyond the examination of interactions at the genetic network scale and employ multiscale modeling approaches to predict emergent properties at the tissue, organ, organism, and rhizosphere scales. Understanding the underlying biological mechanisms and the complex interplay between systems at these different scales requires an integrative approach. Here, we describe examples of such approaches and discuss the merits of developing models to span multiple scales, from network to population levels, and to address dynamic interactions between plants and their environment.
In Arabidopsis, lateral roots originate from pericycle cells deep within the primary root. New lateral root primordia (LRP) have to emerge through several overlaying tissues. Here, we report that auxin produced in new LRP is transported towards the outer tissues where it triggers cell separation by inducing both the auxin influx carrier LAX3 and cell-wall enzymes. LAX3 is expressed in just two cell files overlaying new LRP. To understand how this striking pattern of LAX3 expression is regulated, we developed a mathematical model that captures the network regulating its expression and auxin transport within realistic three-dimensional cell and tissue geometries. Our model revealed that, for the LAX3 spatial expression to be robust to natural variations in root tissue geometry, an efflux carrier is required--later identified to be PIN3. To prevent LAX3 from being transiently expressed in multiple cell files, PIN3 and LAX3 must be induced consecutively, which we later demonstrated to be the case. Our study exemplifies how mathematical models can be used to direct experiments to elucidate complex developmental processes.
The root phenotype of an Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) mutant of CHITINASE-LIKE1 (CTL1), called arm (for anion-related root morphology), was previously shown to be conditional on growth on high nitrate, chloride, or sucrose. Mutants grown under restrictive conditions displayed inhibition of primary root growth, radial swelling, proliferation of lateral roots, and increased root hair density. We found here that the spatial pattern of CTL1 expression was mainly in the root and root tips during seedling development and that the protein localized to the cell wall. Fourier-transform infrared microspectroscopy of mutant root tissues indicated differences in spectra assigned to linkages in cellulose and pectin. Indeed, root cell wall polymer composition analysis revealed that the arm mutant contained less crystalline cellulose and reduced methylesterification of pectins. We also explored the implication of growth regulators on the phenotype of the mutant response to the nitrate supply. Exogenous abscisic acid application inhibited more drastically primary root growth in the arm mutant but failed to repress lateral branching compared with the wild type. Cytokinin levels were higher in the arm root, but there were no changes in mitotic activity, suggesting that cytokinin is not directly involved in the mutant phenotype. Ethylene production was higher in arm but inversely proportional to the nitrate concentration in the medium. Interestingly, eto2 and eto3 ethylene overproduction mutants mimicked some of the conditional root characteristics of the arm mutant on high nitrate. Our data suggest that ethylene may be involved in the arm mutant phenotype, albeit indirectly, rather than functioning as a primary signal.
Plant root architecture is highly responsive to changes in nutrient availability. However, the molecular mechanisms governing the adaptability of root systems to changing environmental conditions is poorly understood. A screen for abnormal root architecture responses to high nitrate in the growth medium was carried out for a population of ethyl methanesulfonate-mutagenized Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana). The growth and root architecture of the arm (for anion altered root morphology) mutant described here was similar to wild-type plants when grown on low to moderate nitrate concentrations, but on high nitrate, arm exhibited reduced primary root elongation, radial swelling, increased numbers of lateral roots, and increased root hair density when compared to the wild-type control. High concentrations of chloride and sucrose induced the same phenotype. In contrast, hypocotyl elongation in the dark was decreased independently of nitrate availability. Positional cloning identified a point mutation in the AtCTL1 gene that encodes a chitinase-related protein, although molecular and biochemical analysis showed that this protein does not possess chitinase enzymatic activity. CTL1 appears to play two roles in plant growth and development based on the constitutive effect of the arm mutation on primary root growth and its conditional impact on root architecture. We hypothesize that CTL1 plays a role in determining cell wall rigidity and that the activity is differentially regulated by pathways that are triggered by environmental conditions. Moreover, we show that mutants of some subunits of the cellulose synthase complex phenocopy the conditional effect on root architecture under nonpermissive conditions, suggesting they are also differentially regulated in response to a changing environment.
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