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J Exp Bot. 2004 Dec;55(408):2599-605. Epub 2004 Sep 24.

Apparent respiratory discrimination is correlated with growth rate in the shoot apex of sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

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  • 1College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, ID 83844-1133, USA.


The literature offers no consensus as to whether the delta(13)C of respired CO(2) is identical to that of the respiratory substrate, perhaps because of differences in measurement technique and growth conditions. To address this issue, the delta(13)C of respired CO(2) from growing sunflower shoot apices was measured and compared with that of soluble carbohydrates extracted from the respiring tissues. Shoot apices were studied because any influence of growth and biosynthesis was expected to be maximally expressed in these rapidly growing tissues. The two most probable substrates, starch and soluble sugars, were similar in delta(13)C (P=0.46). The delta(13)C of respired CO(2) was enriched in (13)C compared with these putative substrates (P<0.0001). This apparent enrichment ranged from 2.2 per thousand-5.7 per thousand, and decreased with relative growth rate (P<0.0001). The respiratory enrichment was counterbalanced by a depletion in the tissue constructed from the residual carbohydrates. The depletion varied from 2.2 per thousand to 3.0 per thousand relative to soluble carbohydrates (P<0.05), as predicted from mass-balance arguments. These results support the idea that respired CO(2) is enriched relative to its substrates. Variation in growth rates may help to explain the variable amounts of respiratory discrimination described in the literature.

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