Date of this Version
Lopez‑Guerrero et al. Plant Methods (2022) 18:25 https://doi.org/10.1186/s13007-022-00856-4
Background: Although there have been numerous studies describing plant growth systems for root exudate collection, a common limitation is that these systems require disruption of the plant root system to facilitate exudate collection. Here, we present a newly designed semi-hydroponic system that uses glass beads as solid support to simulate soil impedance, which combined with drip irrigation, facilitates growth of healthy maize plants, collection and analysis of root exudates, and phenotyping of the roots with minimal growth disturbance or root damage. Results: This system was used to collect root exudates from seven maize genotypes using water or 1 mM CaCl2, and to measure root phenotype data using standard methods and the Digital imaging of root traits (DIRT) software. LC–MS/MS (Liquid Chromatography—Tandem Mass Spectrometry) and GC–MS (Gas Chromatography—Mass Spectrometry) targeted metabolomics platforms were used to detect and quantify metabolites in the root exudates. Phytohormones, some of which are reported in maize root exudates for the first time, the benzoxazinoid DIMBOA (2,4-Dihydroxy-7-methoxy-1,4-benzoxazin-3-one), amino acids, and sugars were detected and quantified. After validating the methodology using known concentrations of standards for the targeted compounds, we found that the choice of the exudate collection solution affected the exudation and analysis of a subset of analyzed metabolites. No differences between collection in water or CaCl2 were found for phytohormones and sugars. In contrast, the amino acids were more concentrated when water was used as the exudate collection solution. The collection in CaCl2 required a clean-up step before MS analysis which was found to interfere with the detection of a subset of the amino acids. Finally, using the phenotypic measurements and the metabolite data, significant differences between genotypes were found and correlations between metabolites and phenotypic traits were identified. Conclusions: A new plant growth system combining glass beads supported hydroponics with semi-automated drip irrigation of sterile solutions was implemented to grow maize plants and collect root exudates without disturbing or damaging the roots. The validated targeted exudate metabolomics platform combined with root phenotyping provides a powerful tool to link plant root and exudate phenotypes to genotype and study the natural variation of plant populations.