Growing plants in a microscope is helping scientists to view roots developing in real time and in 3D.
"With the growth conditions under our control, we can explore how roots respond to different environmental conditions", says Professor Ernst Stelzer (Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main, Germany).
"This could help plant breeders to select crops which are more resistant to drought or flooding." Scientists already know that lateral roots in plants develop from cells deep within the main root, so that the emerging roots must force through multiple layers of tissue to reach the soil. Until now, capturing the cell-division events behind this process has proved exceptionally difficult.
The researchers grew Arabidopsis thaliana (a model organism for plant scientists) in miniature chambers placed inside fluorescence microscopes. This new technique allows root production to be observed without damaging these delicate structures.