Strikingly, evolution shaped similar tubular structures at the µm to mm scale in roots of sessile plants and in small intestines of mobile mammals to ensure an efficient transfer of essential nutrients from ‘dead matter' into biota. These structures, named root hairs (RHs) in plants and villi in mammals, numerously stretch into the environment, and extremely enlarge root and intestine surfaces. They are believed to forage for nutrients, and mediate their uptake. While the conceptional understanding of plant RH function in hydromineral nutrition seems clear, experimental evidence presented in textbooks is restricted to a very limited number of reference-nutrients. Here, we make an element-by-element journey through the periodic table and link individual nutrient availabilities to the development, structure/shape and function of RHs. Based on recent developments in molecular biology and the identification of mutants differing in number, length or other shape-related characteristics of RHs in various plant species, we present comprehensive advances in (i) the physiological role of RHs for the uptake of specific nutrients, (ii) the developmental and morphological responses of RHs to element availability and (iii) RH-localized nutrient transport proteins. Our update identifies crucial roles of RHs for hydromineral nutrition, mostly under nutrient and/or water limiting conditions, and highlights the influence of certain mineral availabilities on early stages of RH development, suggesting that nutritional stimuli, as deficiencies in P, Mn or B, can even dominate over intrinsic developmental programs underlying RH differentiation.

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