“The key is in the fuzzy coat of hairs on the roots of plants” says Professor Liam Dolan. “We have identified a growth control mechanism that enables these hairs to find their way and to elongate when their path is clear”.
Root hairs explore the soil in much the same way as a person would feel their way in the dark. If they come across an obstacle, they feel their way around until they can continue growing in an opening. In the meantime, the plant is held in place as the hairs grip the soil.
“This remarkable system gives plants the flexibility to explore a complex environment and to colonise even the most unpromising soils”, says Professor Dolan. “It also explains how seedlings are able to grow so quickly once they have established”.