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Zinc Interaction with Phosphorus in Root Uptake

Final Report Summary - ZIPRU (Zinc Interaction with Phosphorus in Root Uptake)

Zinc interaction with phosphorus in root uptake (623305 ZIPRU)
Dr Paula Pongrac and Professor Philip White
The James Hutton Institute, United Kingdom

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Background: Phosphorus and zinc are essential plant nutrients important for crop quality and yield. In addition, zinc is important for the nutrition of livestock and humans. It has been reported that inputs of phosphorus fertiliser required for maximal yields might reduce zinc concentrations in produce, which could exacerbate zinc malnutrition of livestock and humans.

Aim: The aim of the project was to investigate whether interactions between phosphorus and zinc nutrition affected yield and/or zinc concentration in Brassica oleracea, a species that has been bred into a wide range of crops such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower.

Results: Nine Brassica oleracea genotypes with contrasting responses to applications of phosphorus and zinc fertilisers were studied. Yield, root architecture and tissue phosphorus and zinc concentrations were determined for plants grown in agricultural soils, commercial compost, solution culture (hydroponics) and on blue germination paper in a hydroponic high throughput root phenotyping system. In a pot experiment with three different soil types phosphorus and zinc uptake depended more on the soil type than on phosphorus and zinc fertilisers. In commercial compost, shoot zinc concentrations correlated negatively with shoot phosphorus and yield. Two genotypes (C6 and F103) differing in zinc uptake and root architecture were studied in hydroponics. The C6 genotype had greater biomass, lower root and shoot zinc concentrations, greater exudation of organic compounds by roots, and fewer and shorter lateral roots than the F103 genotype.

Conclusions: Because of complex physico-chemical interactions in the soil, phosphorus and zinc concentrations in shoots of Brassica oleracea was governed more by soil type than by the application of phosphorus and zinc fertilisers. When plants were supplied supra-optimal zinc, shoot phosphorus concentration and yield of Brassica oleracea declined with increasing shoot zinc concentration. Thus, judicious crop zinc nutrition is required to optimise both yield and nutritional quality. The number and length of lateral roots were more important for zinc uptake than the exudation of organic compounds by roots.

Impact: The results could be used to optimise phosphorus and zinc fertiliser inputs to increase both yield and zinc concentrations in edible produce, thereby maximising crop production and the nutrition of humans and livestock. Reducing the application of phosphorous fertilisers also preserves non-renewable resources whilst protecting the environment.

Training Outcomes: The fellow has gained technical, communication and management skills, and developed collaborative networks enabling her to follow an independent scientific career. In addition, participation in public knowledge exchange activities and maintenance of web-based blog “Plantventurist” ( has given the fellow a direct link between her scientific work and a wider public audience.