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Physiological Roles For Aerenchyma In Phosphorus-stressed Roots

Mingshou Fan, Jinming Zhu, Christina Richards, Kathleen M. Brown, Jonathan P. Lynch

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Low phosphorus availability induces the formation of cortical aerenchyma in roots. The adaptive significance of this response is unknown. We hypothesized that aerenchyma may be helpful to low-phosphorus plants by reducing root respiratory and phosphorus requirements, thereby increasing the metabolic efficiency of soil exploration. To test this hypothesis we investigated aerenchyma formation, root respiration and tissue phosphorus concentration in maize and common bean genotypes in response to phosphorus availability and ethylene treatments. Genotypes differed substantially in their ability to form aerenchyma in response to low phosphorus. Aerenchyma formation was disproportionately correlated with reduced root respiration; roots with 30% cross-sectional area as aerenchyma had 70% less respiration than roots without aerenchyma. Aerenchyma formation was also proportionally correlated with reduced root phosphorus concentration. Variation in aerenchyma formation was correlated with root respiration and phosphorus concentration, regardless of whether such variation was caused genetically or by ethylene or phosphorus treatments. Results with isolated roots were confirmed by measurement of whole root respiration of intact maize plants. Our results support the hypothesis that aerenchyma formation reduces the respiratory and phosphorus requirements of soil exploration by roots, and thus, represents a useful adaptation to low phosphorus availability.