In the next decades, the need of more food will request a significant increment of crop productivity. In the last century, this was achieved mainly by increasing the use of mineral fertilization. However, this approach cannot be pursued due to its high economic and environmental costs and impacts. To obtain an increment of productivity in a sustainable agriculture system, one possibility is to optimize the use of naturally present soil nutrients. As most of the mineral nutrients present in the soil are in unavailable forms, plants have to mobilize them, for instance by actively releasing organic and inorganic compounds (root exudates) which can alter the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of the soil around the roots, the so-called rhizosphere favoring the nutrient acquisition.
Thus, the aim of RHIZOCROP is to assess the role and fate of root exudates involved in the processes and mechanisms of soil nutrient availability, plant uptake and translocation. RHIZOCROP will focus on micronutrients as iron (Fe) covering chemical, physiological and molecular aspects to implement the knowledge of plant nutrient acquisition and the mechanisms adopted under common nutrient deficiency conditions (Fe) increasing the sustainability of agricultural crop production systems.
The project will be divided in 7 Workpackages (WPs) over a period of 3 years aimed to first quantify and qualify the exudate pattern of mono- and dicotyledonous model plants (barley, maize, white lupin and strawberry), in hydroponic and in soil conditions, then to determine the fate and origin of exudates in soil evaluating the residence time and the interactions of root exudates with mineral soil constituents, and to identify and characterize membrane proteins involved in the exudate release
In addition, the project will assess the contribution of root exudates on Fe acquisition; Fe allocation in the different plant tissues and the metabolic mechanism of adaptation in Fe-deficient plants involved in the synthesis and release of exudates will also be studied. Finally, the effect of abiotic stresses such as herbicides and safeners, largely used for crop management, on the exudation process and consequently nutrient acquisition will be evaluated. Based on the obtained results, strategies to manage rhizosphere processes will be defined to enhance Fe uptake thus obtaining a more rational use of fertilizers and pesticides. At the same time, the project foresees to identify proposals for plant breeders thanks to the identification of key genes involved in Fe acquisition.
An important step of the project will be the dissemination of results through the usual channels of academic research like peer-reviewed international scientific journals as well as national and international scientific meetings. RHIZOCROP has already considered, melting together during the preparation phase, both aspects: the national and the EU research vision. RHIZOCROP has tried to put together the most competitive research teams in the ‘rhizosphere and agriculture chemistry
sector’ with strong collaboration at national and international level. The basic idea behind RHIZOCROP is to optimize the national knowhow and to perform competitive basic research, with international visibility, in order to strengthen both, the Italian research and researchers position at EU and international level. The knowhow, generated during the project, will be used by the researcher in EU and associated countries and international fundraising activities and contribute to the knowledge of plant nutrition and crop management by applying innovative technologies and multidisciplinary methodologies.