• antioxidants;
  • barley;
  • catalase;
  • DNA damage;
  • UV-B

There is limited information on the impacts of present-day solar ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B) on biomass and grain yield of field crops and on the mechanisms that confer tolerance to UV-B radiation under field conditions. We investigated the effects of solar UV-B on aspects of the biochemistry, growth and yield of barley crops using replicated field plots and two barley strains, a catalase (CAT)-deficient mutant (RPr 79/4) and its wild-type mother line (Maris Mink). Solar UV-B reduced biomass accumulation and grain yield in both strains. The effects on crop biomass accumulation tended to be more severe in RPr 79/4 (≈ 32% reduction) than in the mother line (≈ 20% reduction). Solar UV-B caused measurable DNA damage in leaf tissue, in spite of inducing a significant increase in UV-absorbing sunscreens in the two lines. Maris Mink responded to solar UV-B with increased CAT and ascorbate peroxidase (APx) activity. No effects of UV-B on total superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity were detected. Compared with the wild type, RPr 79/4 had lower CAT activity, as expected, but higher APx activity. Neither of these activities increased in response to UV-B in RPr 79/4. These results suggest that growth inhibition by solar UV-B involves DNA damage and oxidative stress, and that constitutive and UV-B-induced antioxidant capacity may play an important role in UV-B tolerance.