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J Exp Bot. 2012 Nov;63(18):6335-45. doi: 10.1093/jxb/ers285. Epub 2012 Oct 17.

Physiological and molecular responses to drought in Petunia: the importance of stress severity.

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Department of Horticulture, University of Georgia, 1111 Miller Plant Science Building, Athens, GA 30602, USA.

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Plant responses to drought stress vary depending on the severity of stress and the stage of drought progression. To improve the understanding of such responses, the leaf physiology, abscisic acid (ABA) concentration, and expression of genes associated with ABA metabolism and signalling were investigated in Petunia × hybrida. Plants were exposed to different specific substrate water contents (θ = 0.10, 0.20, 0.30, or 0.40 m(3)·m(-3)) to induce varying levels of drought stress. Plant responses were investigated both during the drying period (θ decreased to the θ thresholds) and while those threshold θ were maintained. Stomatal conductance (g(s)) and net photosynthesis (A) decreased with decreasing midday leaf water potential (Ψ(leaf)). Leaf ABA concentration increased with decreasing midday Ψ(leaf) and was negatively correlated with g(s) (r = -0.92). Despite the increase in leaf ABA concentration under drought, no significant effects on the expression of ABA biosynthesis genes were observed. However, the ABA catabolism-related gene CYP707A2 was downregulated, primarily in plants under severe drought (θ = 0.10 m(3)•m(-3)), suggesting a decrease in ABA catabolism under severe drought. Expression of phospholipase Dα (PLDα), involved in regulating stomatal responses to ABA, was enhanced under drought during the drying phase, but there was no relationship between PLDα expression and midday Ψ(leaf) after the θ thresholds had been reached. The results show that drought response of plants depends on the severity of drought stress and the phase of drought progression.

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