Faculty Publications

The Fifth Leaf And Spike Organs Of Barley (Hordeum Vulgare L.) Display Different Physiological And Metabolic Responses To Drought Stress

Document Type



Awn, Barley, Drought, Gas exchange, Leaf, Lemma, Metabolites, Palea, Water status

Journal/Book/Conference Title

BMC Plant Biology






Background: Photosynthetic organs of the cereal spike (ear) provide assimilate for grain filling, but their response to drought is poorly understood. In this study, we characterized the drought response of individual organs of the barley spike (awn, lemma, and palea) and compared them with a vegetative organ (fifth leaf). Understanding differences in physiological and metabolic responses between the leaf and spike organs during drought can help us develop high yielding cultivars for environments where terminal drought is prevalent. Results: We exposed barley plants to drought by withholding water for 4 days at the grain filling stage and compared changes in: (1) relative water content (RWC), (2) osmotic potential (φs), (3) osmotic adjustment (OA), (4) gas exchange, and (5) metabolite content between organs. Drought reduced RWC and φs in all four organs, but the decrease in RWC was greater and there was a smaller change in φs in the fifth leaf than the spike organs. We detected evidence of OA in the awn, lemma, and palea, but not in the fifth leaf. Rates of gas exchange declined more rapidly in the fifth leaf than awn during drought. We identified 18 metabolites but, only ten metabolites accumulated significantly during drought in one or more organs. Among these, proline accumulated in all organs during drought while accumulation of the other metabolites varied between organs. This may suggest that each organ in the same plant uses a different set of osmolytes for drought resistance. Conclusions: Our results suggest that photosynthetic organs of the barley spike maintain higher water content, greater osmotic adjustment, and higher rates of gas exchange than the leaf during drought.


Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Original Publication Date


DOI of published version



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