Phytoglobin expression influences soil flooding response of corn plants

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Background and Aims Excess water is a limiting factor for crop productivity. Under conditions of full submergence or flooding, plants can experience prolonged oxygen depletion which compromises basic physiological and biochemical processes. Severe perturbations of the photosynthetic machinery with a concomitant decline in photosynthetic potential as a result of elevated levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) are the major consequences of water excess. Phytoglobins (Pgbs) are ubiquitous proteins induced by several types of stress which affect plant response by modulating nitric oxide.

Methods Maize plants overexpressing or downregulating two Pgb genes were subjected to soil flooding for 10 d and their performance was estimated by measuring several gas exchange parameters including photosynthetic rate. Above-ground tissue was utilized to localize ROS and to measure the expression and activities of major antioxidant enzymes.

Key Results Relative to the wild type, flooded plants overexpressing Pgb genes retained a greater photosynthetic rate and enhanced activity of several antioxidant enzymes. These plants also exhibited high levels of ascorbic acid and reduced ROS staining. This was in contrast to flooded plants downregulating Pgb genes and characterized by the lowest photosynthetic rates and reduced expression and activities of many antioxidant enzymes.

Conclusions Induction of Pgb genes alleviates flooding stress by limiting ROS-induced damage and ensuring a sustained photosynthetic rate. This is achieved through improvements of the ascorbate antioxidant status including an enrichment of the ascorbate pool via de novo and recycling mechanisms, and increased activities of several ROS-scavenging enzymes.

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