Water stress drastically reduces root growth and inulin yield in Cichorium intybus (var. sativum) independently of photosynthesis

Groupe de Recherche en Physiologie Végétale (GRPV), Earth and Life Institute - Agronomy (ELI-A), Université catholique de Louvain, 5 (Bte L 7.07.13) Place Croix du Sud, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
Journal of Experimental Botany (Impact Factor: 5.53). 05/2012; 63(12):4359-73. DOI: 10.1093/jxb/ers095
Source: PubMed


Root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) is a cash crop cultivated for inulin production in Western Europe. This plant can be exposed to severe water stress during the last 3 months of its 6-month growing period. The aim of this study was to quantify the effect of a progressive decline in water availability on plant growth, photosynthesis, and sugar metabolism and to determine its impact on inulin production. Water stress drastically decreased fresh and dry root weight, leaf number, total leaf area, and stomatal conductance. Stressed plants, however, increased their water-use efficiency and leaf soluble sugar concentration, decreased the shoot-to-root ratio and lowered their osmotic potential. Despite a decrease in photosynthetic pigments, the photosynthesis light phase remained unaffected under water stress. Water stress increased sucrose phosphate synthase activity in the leaves but not in the roots. Water stress inhibited sucrose:sucrose 1-fructosyltransferase and fructan:fructan 1 fructosyltransferase after 19 weeks of culture and slightly increased fructan 1-exohydrolase activity. The root inulin concentration, expressed on a dry-weight basis, and the mean degree of polymerization of the inulin chain remained unaffected by water stress. Root chicory displayed resistance to water stress, but that resistance was obtained at the expense of growth, which in turn led to a significant decrease in inulin production.

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