Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2017, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (6): 683-692.DOI: 10.17521/cjpe.2016.0136

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Metabolic responses of wheat roots to alkaline stress

Rui GUO1,2,*(), Ji ZHOU3, Fan YANG4, Feng LI1   

  1. 1Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing 100081, China

    2Key Laboratory of Dryland Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture, Beijing 100081, China

    3Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Centre, the Ministry of Land and Resources, Beijing 100034, China
    4Jilin Academy of Forestry Science, Changchun 130033, China
  • Received:2017-04-05 Accepted:2016-04-14 Online:2017-06-10 Published:2017-07-19
  • Contact: Rui GUO
  • About author:KANG Jing-yao(1991-), E-mail:


Aims The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of alkaline stress on primary, secondary metabolites and metabolic pathways in the roots of wheat (Triticum aestivum). The results were used to evaluate the physiological adaptive mechanisms by which wheat tolerated alkali stress.Methods A pot experiment was carried out in the greenhouse. For each plastic pot, five wheat seeds were planted. After germination, seedlings were allowed to grow under controlled water and nutrient conditions for two months, then seedlings were exposed to alkaline stress (NaHCO3-Na2CO3) for 12 days. The relative growth rate (RGR), absolute water content (AWC), metal elements, free cations and metabolites were measured.Important findings The alkaline stress caused the reduction of RGR and AWC. Alkaline stress caused a rapid increase of Na content with the concurrent decrease in K and Cl content, resulting in inhibited metal element accumulation and an ionic imbalance. In the present study, alkaline stress strongly enhanced Ca accumulation in wheat roots, suggesting that an increased Ca concentration can immediately trigger the salt overly sensitive (SOS)-Na exclusion system and reduce Na-associated injuries. Also, 70 metabolites, including organic acids, amino acids, sugars/polyols and others, behaved differently in the alkaline stress treatments according to a GC-MS analysis. The metabolic profiles of wheat were closely associated with alkaline-stress conditions. Alkaline stress caused the accumulation of organic acids, accompanied by the depletion of sugars/polyols and amino acids. Organic acids could play a central role in the regulation of intracellular pH by accumulating vacuoles to neutralize excess cations. Glycolysis and amino acid synthesis in roots were inhibited under salt stress while prolonged alkaline stress led to a progressive tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. The severe negative effects of alkaline stress on sugar synthesis and storage may reflect the toxic levels of Na+ accumulating in plant cells in a high-pH environment, implying that the reactive oxygen species detoxification capacity was diminished by the high pH. A lack of NO3- in wheat roots can decrease synthase enzyme activities, limiting the synthesis of amino acids. Under salt stress, the TCA cycle and organic acid accumulation increased, but glycolysis and amino acid synthesis were inhibited in roots. Thus, energy levels and high concentrations of organic acids may be the key adaptive mechanisms by which wheat seedlings maintain their intracellular ion balance under alkaline stress.

Key words: wheat (Triticum aestivum), alkaline stress, roots, growth characters, metabolic profiles