Interest in belowground plant growth is increasing, especially in relation to arguments that shallow-rooted cultivars are efficient at exploiting soil phosphorus while deep-rooted ones will access water at depth. However, methods for assessing roots in large numbers of plants are diverse and direct comparisons of methods are rare. Three methods for measuring root growth traits were evaluated for utility in discriminating rice cultivars: soil-filled rhizotrons, hydroponics and soil-filled pots whose bottom was sealed with a non-woven fabric (a potential method for assessing root penetration ability). A set of 38 rice genotypes including the OryzaSNP set of 20 cultivars, additional parents of mapping populations and products of marker-assisted selection for root QTLs were assessed. A novel method of image analysis for assessing rooting angles from rhizotron photographs was employed. The non-woven fabric was the easiest yet least discriminatory method, while the rhizotron was highly discriminatory and allowed the most traits to be measured but required more than three times the labour of the other methods. The hydroponics was both easy and discriminatory, allowed temporal measurements, but is most likely to suffer from artefacts. Image analysis of rhizotrons compared favourably to manual methods for discriminating between cultivars. Previous observations that cultivars from the indica subpopulation have shallower rooting angles than aus or japonica cultivars were confirmed in the rhizotrons, and indica and temperate japonicas had lower maximum root lengths in rhizotrons and hydroponics. It is concluded that rhizotrons are the preferred method for root screening, particularly since root angles can be assessed.
Shrestha, R.; Al-Shugeairy, Z.; Al-Ogaidi, F.; Munasinghe, M.; Radermacher, M.; Vandenhirtz, J.; Price, A.H. Comparing simple root phenotyping methods on a core set of rice genotypes. Plant Biology (2014) 16 (3) 632-642. [DOI: 10.1111/plb.12096]