Crops capable of improved nitrogen capture are in demand for the purposes of efficient global agricultural production. Dathe et al. employ functional-structural modelling to test the hypothesis that variation in the growth angles of maize roots is an important determinant of nitrogen uptake.
They find that root growth angles are primary determinants of nitrogen acquisition in maize. With decreasing soil nitrogen status, optimal angles resulted in 15–50 % greater nitrogen acquisition over 42 days. Optimal root phenotypes for nitrogen capture vary with differing soil and precipitation regimes, suggesting that genetic selection for root phenotypes could be tailored to specific environments.