Researchers have discovered how plant roots adapt their shape to maximize their uptake of water, pausing branching when they lose contact with water and only resuming once they reconnect with moisture, ensuring they can survive even in the driest conditions.

Plant scientists from the University of Nottingham have discovered a novel water sensing mechanism called 'Hydro-Signalling,' which shows how hormone movement is linked with water fluxes. 

Using X-ray micro-CT imaging, researchers were able to reveal that roots alter their shape in response to external moisture availability by linking the movement of water with plant hormone signals that control root branching.

The study provides critical information about the key genes and processes controlling root branching in response to limited water availability, helping scientists design novel approaches to manipulate root architecture to enhance water capture and yield in crops.

Dr. Poonam Mehra, a postdoctoral fellow from the School of Biosciences, is one of the lead authors and explains: "When roots are in contact with moisture, a key hormone signal (auxin) moves inwards with water, triggering new root branches. However, when roots lose contact with moisture, they rely on internal water sources that mobilize another hormone signal (ABA) outwards, which acts to block the inwards movement of the branching signal. This simple yet elegant mechanism enables plant roots to fine-tune their shape to local conditions and optimize foraging."

Read the complete research at

University of Nottingham. "Plant roots change shape and branch out for water." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 November 2022. <>.