Plant-soil interactions: The impact of plant water use on root architecture and soil structure

Grantham Scholar Dr Tinashe Mawodza is now a Research Fellow at University of Nottingham. At the Grantham Centre his project examined plants engineered to use water efficiently and the impact this has on root development and soil structure.

The project

Crops that use water and nutrients more efficiently could limit projected falls many resources crops rely on, such as fresh water and phosphate. Genetic tools can modify the way a plant’s shoot or root develop to improve water and nutrient uptake. But changing these features may have significant consequences for soil structure. Equally, changes to the soil structure itself may have a major impact on root development.

Because research has focused on the parts of the plants that sit above ground, little is known about how altering a plant’s efficiency will affect how it develops below ground. As such, this project will examine plants that have been engineered to use water efficiently, and the impact that this modification has had on root development and soil structure. It will look at the physical interactions between roots and soil to determine how these forces affect the way roots develop and function.

Modelling and testing these interactions will allow plant traits to be matched to particular soil types in a way that will improve soil sustainability. Plant roots will be imaged using non-destructive X-ray microtomography (XMT) technology. XMT will generate 3D maps of the root system, enabling better understanding of soil-plant relations.

Outreach

Patience Muchada and Tinashe Mawodza teaching school children about sustainability
Patience Muchada and Tinashe Mawodza teaching school children about sustainability

Understanding the underlying processes in plants can help improve crop yields. And in this blog, Tinashe explains how hydraulic lift could help plants in regions where water is scarce. Read: Hydraulic lift and water scarcity.

Grantham Scholars went to Zimbabwe to teach schoolchildren about sustainable living. Two of them, Tinashe and Patience Muchada, led a session for students at Macheke High School. Find out more.

Tinashe was one of 3 Scholars who joined the University of Sheffield’s delegation to COP22. Here, he reports back. Read: Impressions from COP22: Energy access and climate change through the energy-water-food nexus.

Social media

You can find Tinashe Mawodza on LinkedIn.

Tinashe Mawodza’s publications

Tinashe Mawodza, Manoj Menon, Harriet Brooks, Oxana V. Magdysyuk, Genoveva Burca, Stuart Casson, Preferential wheat (Triticum aestivum. L cv. Fielder) root growth in different sized aggregates, Volume 212, 2021, 105054, ISSN 0167-1987, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.still.2021.105054.

Tinashe Mawodza, Genoveva Burca, Stuart Casson, Manoj Menon, Wheat root system architecture and soil moisture distribution in an aggregated soil using neutron computed tomography, Geoderma, Volume 359, 2020, 113988, ISSN 0016-7061,
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2019.113988.

Supervisor

Dr Manoj Menon

Department of Civil Engineering

Co-Supervisors

Dr Damien Lacroix

Department of Mechanical Engineering