Roots – The Marvel under the Earth

A film by Stefanie Fleischmann and Christina Gantner| 43 min, 2021

Roots account for more than half of a plant’s mass, yet they are mostly invisible. Their special powers help to overcome problems of climate change and environmental protection.

It is precisely the invisible part of plants that has the potential to help with the challenges facing humanity: securing food for a growing world population, stopping climate change, and extracting resources such as rare earths in an environmentally friendly way.

To do this, however, plants must be able to withstand periods of drought and heat and survive floods. Roots are crucial to this. And they actively search for nutrients in the soil and ward off dangers such as pathogens and toxins.

Scientists at Forschungszentrum Jülich are studying root growth using high-tech methods. The goal: to breed stress-resistant seeds for plants with robust roots. In Sweden, Prof. Linda Maria Mårtensson is conducting research on a perennial wheat variety that will ensure higher yields while protecting the soil. And on the coasts, roots are saviors in times of need. Coastal ecologist Prof. Tjeerd Bouma has discovered that if special grasses are planted in front of the dikes, a salt marsh can be created that acts as a natural breakwater. Geochemist Dr. Oliver Wiche from the Technical University of Freiberg, on the other hand, is researching what is known as phytomining. He wants to know which plants are best suited for mining metals such as germanium or rare earths from the soil. Could this give rise to a new, environmentally friendly branch of industry?