Low phytoavailability of phosphorus (P) limits crop production worldwide. Increasing seed P content can improve plant establishment and increase yields. This is thought to be a consequence of faster initial root growth, which gives seedlings earlier access to growth-limiting resources, such as water and mineral elements. It can be calculated that seed P reserves can sustain maximal growth of cereal seedlings for several weeks after germination, until the plant has three or more leaves and an extensive root system.
In this issue of Plant and Soil, Muhammad Nadeem and colleagues report (1) that measurable P uptake by roots of maize seedlings begins about 5 d after germination, (2) that the commencement of root P uptake is coincident with the transition from carbon heterotrophy to carbon autotrophy, and (3) that neither the timing nor the rate of uptake of exogenous P by the developing root system is influenced by initial seed P content.
Here it is hypothesised that the delay in P acquisition by roots of maize seedlings might be explained if the expression of genes encoding phosphate transporters is not upregulated either (1) because the plant has sufficient P for growth or (2) because a systemic signal from the shoot, which relies on photosynthesis or phloem development, is not produced, translocated or perceived.