Investigating applied drought in Miscanthus sinensis; sensitivity, response mechanisms, and subsequent recovery

Hassan, Mohamad Al; Cruijsen, Kasper van der; Dees, Dianka; Dolstra, Oene; Trindade, Luisa M.


Miscanthus is renowned for its excellent water-use efficiency and good adaptability to a wide range of environmental conditions, making it suitable for cultivation on marginal soils. Drought is a major cause of this marginality, and its occurrence is becoming more frequent and prolonged due to climatic change. Developing drought tolerant genotypes of miscanthus would ensure the maintenance of economically viable yields on lands prone to periodic water-deficiency. To better understand the underlying response and tolerance mechanisms, pre-screen for better survivability at plot setup on marginal lands, and identifying early biomarkers of stress, we explored the genetic diversity present in Miscanthus sinensis under applied drought. Young plants of 23 genotypes underwent 3 weeks of water-deprivation in glasshouse-controlled conditions, followed by an equal period of recovery. Leaves harvested at the end of both experimental phases were the focus of extensive biochemical analyses. Coupled with monitoring several growth and yield parameters, this was instrumental in evaluating stress impact and responses. The most productive genotypes suffered the most in terms of yield reduction and chlorophyll degradation when stress was applied. In parallel, proline and simple soluble sugars accumulated to readjust the osmotic potential in the cytosol and vacuoles, respectively. The necessary carbon skeletons for this buildup were partially acquired from resources diverted away from cell wall synthesis and maintenance, whose content dropped under stress in parallel to increasing drought-sensitivity. Correspondingly, expressional and biochemical analyses revealed a dynamic turnover of starch and soluble sugars in stressed leaves. Meanwhile, better avoidance of stress enabled a more efficient post-drought recovery, which was characterized by restoring pre-stress hydraulic status and unplugging stress response mechanisms.