Photo/Illutration While secreted materials from soybeans are spread evenly, left, those from lupin are localized in a recent study. (Provided by the National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology)

Japanese researchers have succeeded in capturing images of the roots of a plant absorbing nutrients in the soil and microorganisms for nourishment, a world first.

They say the images might reveal details of plants’ survival mechanisms and help develop new technology for maintaining agricultural productivity even with a limited amount of chemical fertilizers.

The images were taken by a team composed of Yin Yong-gen, senior researcher, and Naoki Kawachi, who is the leader of the radiotracer imaging project at the Takasaki Advanced Radiation Research Institute, part of National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology, and other institutes. 

Plants release substances made of photosynthesis from their roots into the ground to work on the soil and microorganisms.

Secreted materials make these microorganisms’ activities more robust, allowing plants to absorb nutrients in the soil.

In the study, the researchers took images of how secreted materials spread with the use of soybeans and lupin, both members of the pea family.

In the case of soybeans, secreted materials spread evenly, while those of lupin were localized.

Yin said he believes the ability of plants to absorb nourishment can be applied to various farm products and can lead to breakthroughs in plant breeding and soil improvements.

“We want to contribute to sustainable agricultural development by creating technology that can cultivate farm products with the smallest amount of chemical fertilizers,” he said.