Michelle Watt holds the Adrienne Clarke Chair of Botany at the University of Melbourne. From 2015 to 2019, she was in Germany as a Director of the Plant Sciences Institute at the Helmholtz Centre, Forschungszentrum Juelich, and Professor of Crop Root Physiology at the University of Bonn. She discovers how the roots of plants grow, function, and supply water and nutrients to plant leaves and harvested products. They aim to identify traits to select in breeding or manage on farms with sensors, to reduce agrichemicals while increasing productivity in changing climates and economics.
Prof. Watt was at CSIRO in Australia before 2015, working on wheat roots for rainfed, conservation systems. Prof. Watt is President of the International Society of Root Research, and co-Chair of the Root Phenotyping Working Group.
Shine light on the rhizosphere to save land, water and fertiliser in the 21st century
Roughly fifty percent of crop systems is below ground and available for optimisation to meet the yield and resource efficiencies for 21st century population growth. Today, breeding and management innovations for the globe’s major crops are guided by above ground data and phenomena only, and require data from below ground. Fortunately technologies for phenotyping roots in laboratory and field have greatly expanded over the last 20 years and become available globally.
Data from this expanding research shows that we cannot predict below ground processes from above ground measurements; that root genetic improvements should be linked to shoot improvements; and untapped opportunities exist to discover traits that result from root-microbiome-soil interactions (Tracy et al., 2020). Correlations and leaf-based phenomena in crop models grossly underestimate below ground carbon-resource exchanges between roots and microbes. This talk will present a brief history of above ground measurements that are the basis of our below-ground estimates in breeding and management, and how today’s technologies to measure roots in soil in fields (Wasson et al., 2020) can directly select for or intervene in the rhizosphere in future cropping systems. Sensing and exploiting processes below ground could be the most valuable consequence of the converging sciences of digital agriculture.