• Zea mays;
  • carotenoids;
  • chilling;
  • photosynthesis;
  • pigments;
  • xanthophyll cycle

The effects on pigment composition and photosynthesis of low temperature during growth were examined in the third leaf of three chilling-tolerant and three chilling-sensitive genotypes of Zea mays L. The plants were grown under a controlled environment at 24 or 14 °C at a photon flux density (PFD) of 200 or 600 μmol m–2 s–1. At 24 °C, the two classes of genotypes showed little differences in their photosynthetic activity and their composition of pigments. At 14 °C, photosynthetic activity was considerably reduced but the chilling-tolerant genotypes displayed higher photosynthetic rates than the chilling-sensitive ones. Plants grown at 14 °C showed a reduced chlorophyll (Chl) a + b content and a reduced Chl a/b ratio but an increased ratio of total carotenoids to Chl a + b. These changes in pigment composition in plants grown at low temperature were generally more pronounced in the chilling-sensitive genotypes than in the tolerant ones, particularly at high PFD. Furthermore, at 14 °C, all the genotypes showed increased ratios of lutein, neoxanthin and xanthophyll-cycle carotenoids to Chl a + b but a reduced ratio of β-carotene to Chl a + b, especially at high PFD. At 14 °C, the chilling-tolerant genotypes, when compared with the sensitive ones, were characterized by higher contents of β-carotene and neoxanthin, a lower content of xanthophyll-cycle carotenoids, a lower ratio of xanthophylls to β-carotene, and less of their xanthophyll-cycle carotenoid pool in the form of zeaxanthin. These differences between the two classes of genotypes were more pronounced at high PFD than at low PFD. The results are discussed in terms of the relationship that may exist in maize between pigment composition and the capacity to form an efficient photosynthetic apparatus at low growth temperature.