NewBioWorld A Journal of Alumni Association of Biotechnology (2023) 5(1):31-36
A brief overview of plant abiotic stresses
Smriti Adil, Afaque Quraishi*
School of Studies in Biotechnology, Pt. Ravishankar
Shukla University, Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India
Author’s Email- firstname.lastname@example.org,
*Corresponding Author Email- email@example.com
05 May 2023
Received in revised form
03 June 2023
live in constantly changing environments, many are unfavourable or stressful
to their growth and development. Agricultural crop cultivation and production
badly affected by several stresses raised from complex environmental
conditions. Abiotic stresses such as cold, drought, nutrient deficiency, and
excess salt or toxic metals in the soil are examples of adverse environmental
conditions. Furthermore, climate change contributes to the increased
frequency and severity of many non-biological stresses, particularly
temperature and drought. A global increase of abiotic stresses affecting
plant growth and productivity of major crops is being realized. Sessile life
forms, the plants, must deal with abiotic stressors like drought, salt
content of the soil, and high temperatures. Furthermore, improving plant
stress resistance is crucial for agricultural productivity and environmental
sustainability because crops with poor stress resistance consume excessive
amounts of water and fertilizer, putting a strain on the environment. The
present review is a brief account of the abiotic stresses that affect plant
growth and development and the actions of plants to overcome the stresses.
Plant growth and productivity
hampered by biotic and abiotic factors (Seki et al. 2003). Depending on the
mode of study, different scientists have defined stress differently. According
to Lichtenthaler (2006), stress is any substance or condition that halts a
plant's metabolism, development, or growth. According to Mahmood (2002), stress
is any factor that minimizes plant development and reproduction below the
genotype's ability. Abiotic stresses cause several changes in plants that harm
crop growth and productivity. Plants, in addition to physiological and
biochemical responses, respond and adapt to survive at the molecular and
cellular levels (Sanghera et al. 2011).
Plants in nature constantly come under threat from
abiotic and biotic stresses (Xe et al. 2019). Stresses like drought, salt, and
temperature form the crucial environmental factors regulating the
geographically diversified distribution of plants in nature, limiting
agricultural plant productivity and threatening food security. Soil salinity is
a major global issue limiting crop productivity and quality in many arid and
semiarid regions (Xe et al. 2019). Drought is yet another significant abiotic
stress that harms the majority of cultivated crops, particularly in semiarid
and arid places (Naveed et al. 2014; Bodner et al. 2015). Drought stress with
climate change is expected to cause critical plant growth problems for more
than 50% of arable lands by 2050 (Vinocur and Altman 2005).
Additionally, heavy metal pollution is on the rise
in the modern era, causing environmental issues (Ahemad 2012; Etesami 2018).
Because heavy metals are difficult to remove from the environment,
environmentalists are concerned about their toxicity to various environmental-habitats.
environment and stress
Soil salinity, a major challenge for agriculture, is
one of the significant environmental stress worldwide, converting agronomically
valuable lands into unproductive areas by 1-2% each year in the arid and
semi-arid zones (Rasool et al. 2013). Soil salinization has rendered
approximately 7% of the world's land and 20% of the total cultivated area
non-arable (Rasool et al. 2013; Etesamia and Maheshwari 2018). When the
electric conductivity (EC) of the soil solution reaches 4 dS m-1 (equivalent to
40 mM NaCl), an osmotic pressure of about 0.2 MPa is generated and hence,
significantly reduces the yields of several crops (Munns and Tester 2008). A major
abiotic constraint on agriculture worldwide is salinity in irrigated water and
soils (Colla et al. 2010; Acosta-Motos et al. 2017a, b).
Salinity can limit the growth and development of
most plants, resulting in lower plant yield (Xie et al. 2019). Furthermore,
salinity causes significant changes in plant growth and metabolism (for
example, physiological, morphological, and biochemical changes) (Gupta and
Huang 2014). Plants must activate various physiological and biochemical
mechanisms in order to cope with the resulting stress under saline conditions
(Xie et al. 2019). Changes in morphology, anatomy, water relations,
photosynthesis, the hormonal profile, toxic ion distribution, salt
compartmentalization, and exclusion (Wang et al. 2016) are examples of such
mechanisms, as are biochemical adaptations (such as the antioxidative
metabolism response) (Hernandez et al. 2001; Parida and Das 2005; Acosta-Motos
et al. 2015; Acosta-Motos 2017b). All enzymatic scavengers interact in plants
to overcome salt stress and promote growth and development (Acosta-Motos
2017b). According to several studies, increased expression of enzymatic
antioxidants induced by salt treatment suggests an effective way to reduce
saline toxicity. However, some studies have found that the salinity extent,
exposure time, and plant developmental stage all affect the expression levels
of these enzyme genes (Guan et al. 2015; Cunha et al. 2016; Li et al. 2019).
Plants are classified based on their ability to
thrive in saline environments (Acosta-Motos et al. 2017b). Glycophytes are
unable to grow in the presence of high salt levels; NaCl concentrations of
100-200 mM inhibit or even completely prevent their growth, resulting in plant
death (Munns and Termaat 1986). Growth inhibition can occur even in the short
term (Hernandez et al. 2002). Halophytes, on the other hand, can survive in the
presence of high NaCl concentrations (300-500 mM) as they have developed better
salt resistance mechanisms, which are unique to these plants (Parida and Das
2005; Flowers and Colmer 2015). Euhalophytes (plants that grow in salty
environments) can deal with the damaging effects of salt stress by developing
various resistance mechanisms (Acosta-Motos et al. 2017b). These plants can
maintain their salt content in several different manners, such as salt
exclusion (prevents salts from entering the vascular system); salt elimination
(salt-secreting glands and hairs actively eliminate salts, keeping the salt
concentration in the leaves under control); salt succulence (if the storage
volume of the cells gradually increases with salt uptake as the cells steadily
take up water and can be kept reasonably constant for long periods); salt
redistribution (Na+ and Cl- are easily translocated in
the phloem, allowing high concentrations in actively transpiring leaves to be
redistributed throughout the plant).
due to water unavailability
Drought (water stress) is one of the most severe
environmental stress and can occur due to a variety of factors such as high and
low temperatures, high light intensity, low rainfall, and salinity
(Salehi-Lisar and Bakhshayeshan-Agdam 2016). Drought is an influential
environmental stress for plant growth that ultimately results in yield
reduction in a warming world, particularly for commercial crops such as rice,
wheat, and maize (Furlan et al. 2016). Drought stress harms plant growth and
metabolic processes, mainly in field-grown crops, by changing water relations,
photosynthetic assimilation, and nutrient uptake (Heffernan 2013). Nonetheless,
plants have evolved a variety of strategies to reduce damage during drought
conditions (Shah et al. 2017). The sheer number of plant species grown in
climatic regions with extreme dry conditions suggests that plants have evolved
to withstand drought stress through morphological, physiological, and biochemical
adaptations (Farnese et al. 2016).
Drought resistance refers to plant species
exhibiting adaptations that enable them to escape, avoid, or tolerate drought
stress (Levitt 1980). Drought escape refers to a plant species' ability to
complete its life cycle before the onset of drought. These plants do not
experience drought stress as they have the ability to modulate their vegetative
and reproductive growth in response to water availability, primarily through
either of the two ways: rapid phenological development and plasticity in
development (Jones et al. 1981). Rapid phenological development includes speedy
plant growth and generation of a limited number of seeds before soil water
depletes. Plants with developmental plasticity exhibit minimal growth all
throughout the dry season, with few flowers and seeds but grow indefinitely
during the wet season, yielding plenty of seeds. Drought avoidance refers to
plants' ability to keep up (relatively) higher tissue water levels regardless
of reduced soil water content (Levitt 1980, Basu et al. 2016). It accomplished
by utilizing a variety of adaptive traits involves water loss minimization
(water savers) and water uptake optimization (water spenders).
environment as stress
In addition to drought stress, low temperature is
another most damaging environmental stress that higher plants face (Theocharis
et al. 2012; Zhou et al. 2017). According to the ambient temperature,
low-temperature stress classified as chilling stress (20°C) or freezing stress
(0°C). In addition to affecting plant growth and development, it significantly
impacts on the geographical distribution of the plants (Guo et al. 2017; Liu
and Zhou 2018; Shi et al. 2018). Tropical and subtropical plants are
susceptible to chilling stress and lack cold acclimation capacity. Temperate
plants, on the other hand, can tolerate freezing temperatures after a phase of
non-freezing temperature exposure, a process known as cold acclimation
(Chinnuswamy et al. 2007). They are resistant to seasonal temperature changes
and can withstand cold stress in the early spring and winter.
Cold stress responses in plants are highly complex
events that modify the biochemical composition of cells to protect them from
damage caused by low temperatures (Xe et al. 2019). Complex signalling cascades
come into play to change the expression of cold-responsive genes, enabling
vegetation to withstand chilling or even freezing temperatures. Chilling
induces oxidative stress resulted in lipid peroxidation, chlorophyll degradation,
etc., chilling tolerance is thus mainly associated with antioxidant enzyme
activities enhancement (Xe et al. 2019). Furthermore, cold stress has a
negative impact on plant morphologies, leading to growth repression and
metals and toxicity
Heavy metals such as iron (Fe), manganese (Mn),
copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), cobalt (Co), cadmium (Cd), zinc (Zn), mercury (Hg),
and arsenic (As) have been accumulating in soils for a long time as a result of
anthropogenic activities, industrial waste, and sewage disposal (Aydinalp and
Marinova 2009). Heavy metal pollution has become such an issue since the
industrial revolution, induced an increase in the relevant scientific research
(Stankovic et al. 2014). All heavy metals are non-biodegradable, means that
they cannot be purged naturally from the environment through any natural means.
Some of these are immobile (they cannot move from where the accumulated site),
while others are mobile (they can be taken up by plants root systems via diffusion,
endocytosis, or phagocytosis or through metal transporters) (Ozturk et al.
2008; Sabir et al. 2015; Burakova et al. 2018). Heavy metals are primarily
stored in soil and transported to the food chain via plants that grow in that
soil (Etesami 2018). Nonetheless, some metals, such as zinc, copper, and
nickel, are necessary micronutrients in trace amounts because they act as
cofactors for various enzymes. Additional metals found in pesticides, such as
Cd and lead (Pb), play no beneficial role and turn toxic when their
concentration rises above a certain threshold (Gough et al. 1979; Sharma and
Ali 2011; Ghori et al. 2019). Heavy metals harm heavy metal stressed plants'
growth, biomass, and photosynthesis (Nagajyoti et al. 2010; Ali et al. 2015).
Heavy metals interfering with the absorption and distribution of essential
nutrients in plants cause nutrient deficiency and imbalance in plants subjected
to metal stress (Etesami 2018; Sharma and Archana 2016). When the amount of
heavy metal is controlled to a usual level, plants demonstrate their ability to
avoid the negative effects (Juknys et al. 2012). There is already evidence that
high levels of heavy metals impair homeostasis and increase ROS production in
plant cells (Shahid et al. 2014). Heavy metals absorbed by plants are involved
in several mechanisms due to their redox ability that produce free radicals.
Fe, Cu, chromium (Cr) (Valko et al. 2005), and other redox-active elements can
take part in a redox-cycling reaction, resulting in the production of toxic
hydroxyl radicals that severely damage living cells (Xe et al. 2019).
Surprisingly, plants are natural bio accumulators,
meaning that they extract and concentrate various heavy metals from the soil
and water that might or might not be required for proper growth (Ozturk et al.
2008). The rate of accumulation and plant tolerance to heavy metals vary by
species, with some becoming toxic faster than others. Heavy metal toxicity can
be manifested in plants as chlorosis, stunted growth, root browning,
decline, and death (Ozturk et al. 2008, 2015); oxidative stress pronounced in
the cells, and the production of stress-related proteins and hormones,
antioxidants, signalling molecules, and heat-shock proteins generated. Plant’s
various stress-resistance mechanisms are responsible for the homeostasis of
essential metals (Rihan et al. 2017). These mechanisms also aim to protect
plants from heavy metals in the soil or to provide tolerance to the plant by
detoxifying the metals. Other mechanisms are specific to each stress and is
activated when it encountered. The first line of defense in plants is reduction
of metal uptake when stimulated by heavy metal toxicity, which includes the
assistance provided by cellular and root exudates that prevent metals from
entering the cell. Many plants possess unique systems for sequestering
individual metal ions within the compartments to avoid exposure to
sensitive cellular components. Detoxification mechanisms that chelate,
transport, and sequester these metals are introduced as a second line of
defense (Rihan et al. 2017).
Mineral nutrient imbalance prevents plant growth and
development in soil rich or poor in nutrients (Paul and Lade 2014). Soil
salinization, competitive ion absorption, and movement or partitioning of ions
inside the plant are just a few of the negative consequences of nutritional
imbalances, which can occur when a given nutrient's physiological role is
deactivated, increasing in internal plant demand for a specific essential
element (Grieve and Grattan 1999). A large proportion of nutrients are
unavailable to plants due to the binding of organic and mineral constituents to
the soil; and a build-up of insoluble precipitates. Plant fitness is also
affected by the essential element imbalances through an impact on plant
nutrition and retention of water, as well as detrimental impacts on plant cells
(Molnár et al. 2011).
Crop yield reduction, a consequence of abiotic
stresses, results in significant economic losses. Because of the adverse impact
of various abiotic stresses, food production is decreasing while the world's
population is rapidly increasing. As a result, one of the primary goals of
plant and crop specialists is to reduce these losses. On the other hand,
abiotic stress brought about by climate change and human activities is
extremely hard to control and requires the development of stress-tolerant crop
genotypes. Furthermore, boosting plant stress resistance is vital for
agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. Non-biological
stresses will continually increase in the near future due to global climate
change. Thus, it is critical to focus on and conduct in-depth research on these
stress factors to come up with solutions that will allow plants to thrive in a
Conflict of Interest
authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.
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