Identification of drought tolerance determinants by genetic analysis of root response to drought stress and abscisic acid
Drought stress is a common adverse environmental condition that seriously affects crop productivity worldwide. Due to the complexity of drought as a stress signal, deciphering drought tolerance mechanisms has remained a major challenge to plant biologists. To develop new approaches to study plant drought tolerance, we searched for phenotypes conferred by drought stress and identified the inhibition of lateral root development by drought stress as an adaptive response to the stress. This drought response is partly mediated by the phytohormone abscisic acid. Genetic screens using Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) were devised, and drought inhibition of lateral root growth (dig) mutants with altered responses to drought or abscisic acid in lateral root development were isolated. Characterization of these dig mutants revealed that they also exhibit altered drought stress tolerance, indicating that this root response to drought stress is intimately linked to drought adaptation of the entire plant and can be used as a trait to access the elusive drought tolerance machinery. Our study also revealed that multiple mechanisms coexist and together contribute to whole-plant drought tolerance.