Not just a stick in the ground
The complexity of plant roots is underestimated at the first glance.
A reason might be that due to their very nature they lack general visibility. Another reason might be that the actual processes of root growth happen on a longer time scale and that the actual mechanisms guiding and coordinating root growth only recently have seen the light of scientific understanding.
Next to coping with the mechanical properties of the soil (i.e. avoiding stones, cracking rocks,...) growing roots incorporate gravity, light, humidity, mechanical load on the stem and the presence of nutritions into their path planning algorithms. Each root tip incorporates a simple bio-controller deciding on where to go next. In consequence, the whole root system can be considered as a system working with distributed intelligence.
When a seed drops on the ground, it only carries the knowledge and a tiny starter package. The material needed for the growth of the plant, including roots and stem has to be extracted from the environment. The attempt of this study is to examine how the anchoring mechanisms of plant roots can be realized technically.
The study is performed together with Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Pisa, IT) and the Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology (Florence, IT).