Live from the Root Biology Symposium at the University of Missouri

The Interdisciplinary Plant Group of the University of Missouri hosted the Root Biology Symposium May 28-31. This symposium marked the 30th anniversary of the IPG symposium series, with several having focused on root biology.  Dr. Robert Sharp and Dr. Melissa Mitchum introduced Chancellor Emeritus Richard L. Wallace who gave a brief overview of the IPG. The IPG formed in 1981 with 9 UM faculty, and has grown to 57 faculty. The IPG has gained international recognition as a model of intra-university collaboration. A trophy was awarded to Dr. Douglas D. Randall who established the symposium series in 1983.  As Dr. Wallace said, the audience is lucky to be involved with a symposium so rich, so relevant, and so exciting.

Root Biology News brought daily updates during this time.

Sessions from Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The symposium began with a talk from the Chancellor's Distinguished Visitor, Jianhua Zhang, that covered strategies being used for water conservation in China, particularly partial rootzone irrigation. This was followed by Phil Benfey, who was this year's keynote speaker and wowed the crowd with his research on roots from genes to pioneering phenotyping of root crowns. Taken together, the first two talks demonstrated the importance of future studies investigating the interaction of root traits and agronomic practices.

The rest of the day was spent in a session on root development. The progress being made is impressive in understanding the genetic regulation of root development. Malcom Bennett was the session's keynote speaker and did a great job showing how lateral roots form using live cell imaging and genetic mutants. The talks in the development session demonstrated how state of the art science is finally unravelling how root systems grow, with implications for applications such as understanding the utility of variation in root traits.

The abiotic interactions section began with the keynote talk from Ian Dodd on root to shoot signalling in drying soil. This research was instrumental in the execution of new agronomic practices advocated by Jianhua Zhang with partial rootzone irrigation (PRI). Particularly, the hormone ABA reduces leaf size and transpiration in PRI which leads to transpiration savings.

After dinner, John Kirkegaard talked about the health benefits of GSLs and ITCs in the mustard family. Remember, eat your broccoli!

Sessions from Thursday, May 30, 2013

The abiotic interactions section continued on Thursday morning. Water stress was an important theme. Felix Fritschi showed some fascinating new screening methods for deep roots in soybeans, reminiscent of toxicity screenings in Arabidopsis. Andrew Leakey spoke about climate change and science being done in FACE sites that manipulating carbon dioxide, temperature, and water in the field.

The biotic interactions session began with Sharon Long's keynote talk about root nodule development, and showed how bacterial sigma factors lead to the different stages of nodule development. This work has implications for the possibility of putting the ability to fix nitrogen in non-leguminous crop plants. Other talks showed the how plants respond to root grazing through chemical signaling, and how nematodes take advantage of inhibiting plants' immune systems. The session's last talks focused on the formation of the mycorrhizal symbiosis that is so common in land plants.

The day concluded with the poster session, which was a blast, and a student/post-doc/speaker dinner which allowed for unique opportunities to interact with root biology colleagues.

Sessions from Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday's nutrition session was a great conclusion to a wonderful meeting. Yi-Feng Tsay gave the keynote about how the nitrate transporter CHL1 can sense both nitrate concentrations and temporal changes that help plants regulate the uptake of nitrogen from the soil and transport it within the plant. The last talks of the day largely focused on the importance of root system architecture for determining the placement of roots and the uptake of soil resources. Lixing Yuan, Leon Kochian, and Matthias Wissuwa gave insight to the state of the science of root system architecture being phenotyped and utilized in maize and rice. The progress being made is astounding, and gives hope to feeding the future.


Doug Randall concluded the symposium with a call for action for the science crisis in the USA. He urged the audience (paraphrasing):

Please go home, take your story, and tell people. We can not put up with what's happening in Washington. We need to tell the public what science can do.

We need to turn science around in the eyes of the public.

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