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Enhanced ascorbate level improves multi-stress tolerance in a widely grown indica rice variety without compromising its agronomic characteristics

Ali, Basharat, Pantha, Sumitra, Acharya, Roshan, Ueda, Yoshiaki, Wu, Lin-Bo, Ashrafuzzaman, Md, Ishizaki, Takuma, Wissuwa, Matthias, Bulley, Sean, Frei, Michael
Journal of plant physiology 2019 v.240 pp. 152998
Actinidia chinensis, Oryza sativa, abiotic stress, agronomic traits, biomass, biosynthesis, drought, gene expression, genes, genetically modified organisms, genotype, iron, kiwifruit, leaves, lipid peroxidation, manganese, nutrient deficiencies, oxidative stress, ozone, panicles, phosphorylase, rice, salinity, seed yield, zinc
A biotechnological approach was adopted for increasing foliar ascorbate levels as a strategy to adapt a widely grown high yielding rice variety to multiple abiotic stresses. The variety IR64 (Oryza sativa L. ssp. indica) was engineered to express the ascorbate biosynthesis gene GDP-L-galactose phosphorylase (AcGGP) from kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis Planch.) under the control of a leaf-specific promoter of the Leaf Panicle 2 (LP2) gene. Transgene expression increased foliar ascorbate levels up to >2.5 fold but did not lead to any changes in morphological traits (seed yield, sterility rate, grain weight, and biomass) in non-stress conditions. We then hypothesized that enhanced foliar ascorbate would confer multi-stress tolerance. Indeed transgenic lines were more tolerant to salinity in terms of lipid peroxidation and foliar symptoms, and to drought in terms of lipid peroxidation and post-drought recovery (number of dead leaves). A significantly better performance in ozone stress was seen only when ozone coincided with salinity. However, no differences between transgenic lines and wild types occurred when plants were subjected to toxicities in redox-active transition metals, i.e. iron and manganese, although plants showed clear symptoms of oxidative stress. Moreover, no differential response to zinc deficiency was observed, because the background genotype IR64 was not sensitive to this stress. Taken together, our study helps to identify stress conditions that can be mitigated by enhancing foliar ascorbate levels, and therefore facilitates an adaptive breeding approach for multiple stresses that would not imply any yield penalty.