Abiotic Stress


Plants, being sessile organisms, are exposed to external factors that can be stressful in such a way that growth, development, and reproduction or the yield of crops become compromised. Expanding extensive physiological studies, the last decade has seen a focus on genes and biochemical pathways that determine whether plants are sensitive or tolerant to the many different stress factors: heat, cold and freezing, drought, salinity, flooding or oxidizing agents. Recently, most emphasis is being directed towards an understanding of the mechanisms through which plants recognize external conditions, and on the signailing pathways that initiate protective reactions.

Keywords: abiotic stresses; adaptation and acclimation; stress defence mechanisms; osmotic adjustment; stress proteins

Figure 1.

Abiotic stress – phenotypic responses. (a) Drought‐induced extreme leaf rolling in maize in the field (courtesy of Dr. RL Nielsen, Purdue University). (b) Storage of NaCl in modified trichomes (‘hairs’, termed epidermal bladder cells) induced by high salinity in the common ice plant.

Figure 2.

A cellular view of salinity stress components. For an explanation of terms see the text (modified after Bohnert et al., ).

Figure 3.

A unifying view – responses to abiotic stress. Acute stress is sensed by cells. Sensing follows a timeline, with very fast initial responses that initiate signalling events, which then establish the connection to altered gene transcription, changes in membrane trafficking of proteins, restructuring of metabolic pathway and altered hormonal and metabolic states. Recent studies have shown a completely new aspect of stress biology: plants express ‘antisense genes’ (siRNAs), which leads to the destruction of other transcripts whose presence would not be beneficial during stress (Borsani et al., ). Stresses also cause injuries, measured by independent signalling pathways, which lead to reactions for damage control and repair. Cell division and growth are reduced or continue, depending on the severity of a stress. Severe injury leads to the initiation of cell death‐promoting programmes.



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Further Reading

Bohnert HJ, Gong Q, Li P and Ma S (2006) Unraveling abiotic stress tolerance mechanisms ‐ getting genomics going. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 9: 180–188.

Fujita M, Fujita Y, Noutoshi Y et al. (2006) Crosstalk between abiotic and biotic stress responses: a current view from the points of convergence in the stress signaling networks. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 9: 436–442.

Gupta AK and Kaur N (2005) Sugar signalling and gene expression in relation to carbohydrate metabolism under abiotic stresses in plants. Journal of Bioscience 30: 761–776.

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Verslues PE and Zhu JK (2005) Before and beyond ABA: upstream sensing and internal signals that determine ABA accumulation and response under abiotic stress. Biochemical Society Transactions 33: 375–379.

Vinocur B and Altman A (2005) Recent advances in engineering plant tolerance to abiotic stress: achievements and limitations. Current Opinion in Biotechnology 16: 123–132.

Yamaguchi T and Blumwald E (2005) Developing salt‐tolerant crop plants: challenges and opportunities. Trends in Plant Sciences 10: 615–620.

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How to Cite close
Bohnert, Hans J(Apr 2007) Abiotic Stress. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020087]