Root hairs aid soil penetration by anchoring the root surface to pore walls

A. Glyn Bengough (Lead / Corresponding author), Kenneth Loades, Blair M. McKenzie

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The physical role of root hairs in anchoring the root tip during soil penetration was examined. Experiments using a hairless maize mutant (Zea mays: rth3–3) and its wild-type counterpart measured the anchorage force between the primary root of maize and the soil to determine whether root hairs enabled seedling roots in artificial biopores to penetrate sandy loam soil (dry bulk density 1.0–1.5g cm−3). Time-lapse imaging was used to analyse root and seedling displacements in soil adjacent to a transparent Perspex interface. Peak anchorage forces were up to five times greater (2.5N cf. 0.5N) for wild-type roots than for hairless mutants in 1.2g cm−3 soil. Root hair anchorage enabled better soil penetration for 1.0 or 1.2g cm−3 soil, but there was no significant advantage of root hairs in the densest soil (1.5g cm−3). The anchorage force was insufficient to allow root penetration of the denser soil, probably because of less root hair penetration into pore walls and, consequently, poorer adhesion between the root hairs and the pore walls. Hairless seedlings took 33h to anchor themselves compared with 16h for wild-type roots in 1.2g cm−3 soil. Caryopses were often pushed several millimetres out of the soil before the roots became anchored and hairless roots often never became anchored securely.The physical role of root hairs in anchoring the root tip may be important in loose seed beds above more compact soil layers and may also assist root tips to emerge from biopores and penetrate the bulk soil.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1071-1078
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number4
Early online date21 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


  • Biopores
  • root growth
  • root:soil contact
  • root systems
  • Zea mays

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