Researchers at Duke University wanted to find out, see how the roots of plants take root in the soil. To do this, they set up the camera on rice seeds germinating in a transparent gel. Scientists took a new picture every 15 minutes for several days and eventually proved that the roots of plants “dance” to anchor in the ground.

Scientists wondered what happens to the roots of plants when they go deeper into the soil. Taking the whole process, they processed the data. By reducing 100 hours of growth footage to a minute, the scientists saw that the rice roots used a special trick to anchor them in the soil. Most of all it looked like a corkscrew movement. To test their theory, the scientists used a soft robot that looks like a root itself.

Through observations, scientists have gained new insights into how and why plant root tips rotate during growth. For example, it turned out that some roots cannot move like a corkscrew. The culprit is a mutation in the HK1 gene, which makes them grow straight down, and not twirl and twist, like other roots do.

Scientists suggest that the spiral growth strategy, the special “dance” of plants, is a search strategy – a way to find the best way to dig deeper into the soil.

In experiments conducted in the laboratory of physics professor Daniel Goldman at the Georgia Institute of Technology, observations of normal and mutant rice roots have shown that normal spiral roots are three times more likely to find a hole and grow on the other side.

Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of California, Santa Barbara built a soft, pliable robot that spins around like a root and left it in an obstacle course made of unevenly spaced pegs.

Even without sophisticated sensors or controls, the robotic root could still overcome obstacles and find its way through the pegs. But when the bending from side to side stopped, the robot quickly got stuck.

Finally, the team grew common and mutant rice seeds in a soil mixture used for baseball fields to test them for obstacles the root could actually encounter in the soil. Of course, while the mutated roots had problems with obstacles, the normal ones overcame them easily.

The work helps scientists understand how roots grow in hard, compacted soil.