Beneath the dusty soil and arid earth
Your tentacles branch outwards;
Driven by an unseen architect
To create multifaceted monoliths
Of gnarly twine and knotted rope.
Your suppurated fingertips
Dowse for unseen traces of
Ancient reservoirs and
Recklessly reaching through
Unseen valleys and hidden troughs.
Relentlessly you twist and turn
Through broken pottery and
Greedily gobbling down any remnants
Of moisture that trickle
Through your greasy claws.
You take a sharp left through
The acidic limestone of a
And before you are able to
You breach the surface –
Blackened fingers going limp
As they blister and fester in the
You want to turn back,
But the architect has gone.
Leaving you cottonmouthed
In your final withdrawal.
This science poem is inspired by recent research that has discovered how plant roots sense the availability of moisture in the soil and then adapt their shape to optimise their acquisition of water.
Plants need roots in order to acquire both water and soluble nutrients from the soil, both of which are essential for plant growth. As the changing global climate makes acquiring moisture from the soil more difficult, plants are able to adapt to different soil moisture conditions by altering their root structure, but until now it was unsure how this was done.
Root branches only form when in direct contact with soil moisture using an adaptive response termed ‘hydropatterning’. This new research has found that hydropatterning is controlled by a gene called ARF7; plant roots lacking ARF7 are no longer able to hydropattern. Furthermore, when plant roots are exposed to moisture ARF7 remains active and promotes root branching, but when the roots are exposed to air, ARF7 is modified and becomes inactive, blocking root branching in the process and thus making the future acquisition of water more difficult. This discovery could enable crops to be bred which are more adaptive to changes in climate conditions, such as water scarcity, thereby helping with future food security.
You can hear an audio version of this poem here: