Root morphology and seed and leaf ionomic traits in a Brassica napus L. diversity panel show wide phenotypic variation and are characteristic of crop habit

C L Thomas, T D Alcock, N S Graham, R Hayden, S Matterson, L Wilson, S D Young, L X Dupuy, P J White, J P Hammond, J M C Danku, D E Salt, A Sweeney, I Bancroft, M R Broadley

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BACKGROUND: Mineral nutrient uptake and utilisation by plants are controlled by many traits relating to root morphology, ion transport, sequestration and translocation. The aims of this study were to determine the phenotypic diversity in root morphology and leaf and seed mineral composition of a polyploid crop species, Brassica napus L., and how these traits relate to crop habit. Traits were quantified in a diversity panel of up to 387 genotypes: 163 winter, 127 spring, and seven semiwinter oilseed rape (OSR) habits, 35 swede, 15 winter fodder, and 40 exotic/unspecified habits. Root traits of 14 d old seedlings were measured in a 'pouch and wick' system (n = ~24 replicates per genotype). The mineral composition of 3-6 rosette-stage leaves, and mature seeds, was determined on compost-grown plants from a designed experiment (n = 5) by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

RESULTS: Seed size explained a large proportion of the variation in root length. Winter OSR and fodder habits had longer primary and lateral roots than spring OSR habits, with generally lower mineral concentrations. A comparison of the ratios of elements in leaf and seed parts revealed differences in translocation processes between crop habits, including those likely to be associated with crop-selection for OSR seeds with lower sulphur-containing glucosinolates. Combining root, leaf and seed traits in a discriminant analysis provided the most accurate characterisation of crop habit, illustrating the interdependence of plant tissues.

CONCLUSIONS: High-throughput morphological and composition phenotyping reveals complex interrelationships between mineral acquisition and accumulation linked to genetic control within and between crop types (habits) in B. napus. Despite its recent genetic ancestry (<10 ky), root morphology, and leaf and seed composition traits could potentially be used in crop improvement, if suitable markers can be identified and if these correspond with suitable agronomy and quality traits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number214
JournalBMC Plant Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2016

Bibliographical note

We thank Jonathan Atkinson, Darren Wells, Andrew French and Michael Pound at the University of Nottingham for advice on root measurement methods.

The work was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Crop Improvement Research Club (CIRC) Grant BB/J019631/1 to MRB, BBSRC grant BB/L000113/1 to DES, the BBSRC Renewable Industrial Products from Rapeseed (RIPR) Programme Grant BB/L002124/1 to IB, and the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) of the Scottish Government through Work Package 3.3 (2011–2016) to PJW.


  • Canola
  • Ionomics
  • Mineral concentration
  • High-throughput phenotyping
  • Root morphology
  • Seed size
  • Leaf/seed elemental ratios


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