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Plant Cell Environ. 2011 Sep;34(9):1431-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3040.2011.02341.x. Epub 2011 Jun 20.

Plant adaptation to frequent alterations between high and low temperatures: remodelling of membrane lipids and maintenance of unsaturation levels.

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Key Laboratory of Biodiversity and Biogeography, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650204, China.


One major strategy by which plants adapt to temperature change is to decrease the degree of unsaturation of membrane lipids under high temperature and increase it under low temperature. We hypothesize that this strategy cannot be adopted by plants in ecosystems and environments with frequent alterations between high and low temperatures, because changes in lipid unsaturation are complex and require large energy inputs. To test this hypothesis, we used a lipidomics approach to profile changes in molecular species of membrane glycerolipids in two plant species sampled from alpine screes and in another two plant species grown in a growth chamber, with the temperature cycling daily between heat and freezing. We found that six classes of phospholipid and two classes of galactolipid showed significant changes, but the degree of unsaturation of total lipids and of three lysophospholipid classes remained unchanged. This pattern of changes in membrane lipids was distinct from that occurring during slow alterations in temperature. We propose two types of model for the adaptation of plants to temperature change: (1) remodelling of membrane lipids but maintenance of the degree of unsaturation are used to adapt to frequent temperature alterations; and (2) both remodelling and changes in the degree of unsaturation to adapt to infrequent temperature alterations.

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