Unravelling rootstock×scion interactions to improve food security
Abstract - Journal of Experimental Botany
While much recent science has focused on understanding and exploiting root traits as new opportunities for crop improvement, the use of rootstocks has enhanced productivity of woody perennial crops for centuries. Grafting of vegetable crops has developed very quickly in the last 50 years, mainly to induce shoot vigour and to overcome soil-borne diseases in solanaceous and cucurbitaceous crops. In most cases, such progress has largely been due to empirical interactions between farmers, gardeners, and botanists, with limited insights into the underlying physiological mechanisms. Only during the last 20 years has science realized the potential of this old activity and studied the physiological and molecular mechanisms involved in rootstock×scion interactions, thereby not only explaining old phenomena but also developing new tools for crop improvement. Rootstocks can contribute to food security by: (i) increasing the yield potential of elite varieties; (ii) closing the yield gap under suboptimal growing conditions; (iii) decreasing the amount of chemical (pesticides and fertilizers) contaminants in the soil; (iv) increasing the efficiency of use of natural (water and soil) resources; (v) generating new useful genotypic variability (via epigenetics); and (vi) creating new products with improved quality. The potential of grafting is as broad as the genetic variability able to cross a potential incompatibility barrier between the rootstock and the scion. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms underlying the phenotypic variability resulting from rootstock×scion×environment interactions will certainly contribute to developing and exploiting rootstocks for food security.