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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Plant Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fpls.2019.01539

Sorting the wheat from the chaff: PCD as a marker of stress tolerance in agriculturally important cereals

  • 1Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland

Conventional methods for screening for stress-tolerant cereal varieties rely on expensive, labour-intensive field testing and molecular biology techniques. Here, we use the root hair assay (RHA) as a rapid screening tool to identify stress-tolerant varieties at the early seedling stage. Wheat and barley seedlings had stress applied, and the response quantified in terms of programmed cell death (PCD), viability and necrosis. Heat shock experiments of seven barley varieties showed that winter and spring barley varieties could be partitioned into their two distinct seasonal groups based on their PCD susceptibility, allowing quick data-driven evaluation of their thermotolerance at an early seedling stage. In addition, evaluating the response of eight wheat varieties to heat and salt stress allowed identification of their PCD inflection points (35 °C and 150 mM NaCl), where the largest differences in PCD levels arise. Using the PCD inflection points as a reference, we compared different stress effects and found that heat-susceptible wheat varieties displayed similar vulnerabilities to salt stress. Stress-induced PCD levels also facilitated the assessment of the basal, induced and cross-stress tolerance of wheat varieties using single, combined and multiple individual stress exposures by applying concurrent heat and salt stress in a time-course experiment. Two stress-susceptible varieties were found to have low constitutive resistance as illustrated by their high PCD levels in response to single and combined stress exposure. However, both varieties had a fast, adaptive response as PCD levels declined at the other time-points, showing that even with low constitutive resistance, the initial stress cue primes cross-stress tolerance adaptations for enhanced resistance even to a second, different stress type. Here, we demonstrate the RHA's suitability for high-throughput analysis (~4 days from germination to data collection) of multiple cereal varieties and stress treatments. We also showed the versatility of using stress-induced PCD levels to investigate the role of constitutive and adaptive resistance by exploring the temporal progression of cross-stress tolerance. Our results show that by identifying suboptimal PCD levels in vivo in a laboratory setting, we can preliminarily identify stress-susceptible cereal varieties and this information can guide further, more efficiently targeted, field-scale experimental testing.

Keywords: Plant Stress Tolerance, PCD - programmed cell death, root hair assay (RHA), Cereals, Stress phenotype, Basal tolerance, Induced tolerance

Received: 05 Aug 2019; Accepted: 04 Nov 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Chua, Fitzhenry and Daly. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Cara T. Daly, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland,