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Plant Methods. 2008 May 27;4:12. doi: 10.1186/1746-4811-4-12.

Chlorophyll fluorescence imaging accurately quantifies freezing damage and cold acclimation responses in Arabidopsis leaves.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie, Am Mühlenberg 1, D-14476 Potsdam, Germany.



Freezing tolerance is an important factor in the geographical distribution of plants and strongly influences crop yield. Many plants increase their freezing tolerance during exposure to low, nonfreezing temperatures in a process termed cold acclimation. There is considerable natural variation in the cold acclimation capacity of Arabidopsis that has been used to study the molecular basis of this trait. Accurate methods for the quantitation of freezing damage in leaves that include spatial information about the distribution of damage and the possibility to screen large populations of plants are necessary, but currently not available. In addition, currently used standard methods such as electrolyte leakage assays are very laborious and therefore not easily applicable for large-scale screening purposes.


We have performed freezing experiments with the Arabidopsis accessions C24 and Tenela, which differ strongly in their freezing tolerance, both before and after cold acclimation. Freezing tolerance of detached leaves was investigated using the well established electrolyte leakage assay as a reference. Chlorophyll fluorescence imaging was used as an alternative method that provides spatial resolution of freezing damage over the leaf area. With both methods, LT50 values (i.e. temperature where 50% damage occurred) could be derived as quantitative measures of leaf freezing tolerance. Both methods revealed the expected differences between acclimated and nonacclimated plants and between the two accessions and LT50 values were tightly correlated. However, electrolyte leakage assays consistently yielded higher LT50 values than chlorophyll fluorescence imaging. This was to a large part due to the incubation of leaves for electrolyte leakage measurements in distilled water, which apparently led to secondary damage, while this pre-incubation was not necessary for the chlorophyll fluorescence measurements.


Chlorophyll fluorescence imaging is an alternative method to accurately determine the freezing tolerance of leaves. It is quick and inexpensive and the system could potentially be used for large scale screening, allowing new approaches to elucidate the molecular basis of plant freezing tolerance.

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