Being a chilling-sensitive staple crop, rice (Oryza sativa L.) is vulnerable to climate change. The competence of rice to withstand chilling stress should, therefore, be enhanced through technological tools. The present study employed chemical intervention like application of sodium nitroprusside (SNP) as nitric oxide (NO) donor and elucidated the underlying molecular mechanisms of NO-mediated chilling tolerance in rice. At germination stage, germination indicators were interrupted by chilling stress (5.0 ± 1.0°C for 8 h day‒1), while pretreatment with 100 μM SNP markedly improved the indicators. At seedling stage (14-day-old), chilling stress caused stunted growth with visible toxicity along with alteration of biochemical markers, for example, increase in oxidative stress markers (superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, and malondialdehyde) and osmolytes (total soluble sugar; proline and soluble protein content, SPC), and decrease in chlorophyll (Chl), relative water content (RWC), and antioxidants. However, NO application attenuated toxicity symptoms with improving growth performance which might be attributed to enhanced activities of antioxidants, mineral contents, Chl, RWC and SPC. Furthermore, principal component analysis indicated that water imbalance and increased oxidative damage were the main contributors to chilling injury, whereas NO-mediated mineral homeostasis and antioxidant defense were the critical determinants for chilling tolerance in rice. Collectively, our findings revealed that NO protects against chilling stress through valorizing cellular defense mechanisms, suggesting that exogenous application of NO could be a potential tool to evolve cold tolerance as well as climate resilience in rice.
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