Effects of nitrogen and phosphorus deficiencies on levels of carbohydrates, respiratory enzymes and metabolites in seedlings of tobacco and their response to exogenous sucrose


  • The authors wish to thank Dr M. Chaves for help with some of the metabolite measurements. Financial support, provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SFB 137) and the Royal Society, is gratefully acknowledged.

M. J. Paul, Biochemistry & Physiology, Rothamsted Experimental Station, Harpenden, Herts AL52JQ, UK.


A simple method of growing plants in agar was exploited to investigate the effect of long-term nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) deficiencies on respiratory metabolism and growth in shoots and roots of Nicotiana tabacum seedlings, and their interaction with exogenously supplied sucrose. Levels of hexose phosphates and 3-phosphoglyceric acid (3-PGA) were low in P-deficient shoots and roots and high in N-deficient shoots and roots. The ratio of hexose phosphates to 3-PGA and levels of fructose-2,6-bisphosphate were high in P-deficient plants and low in N-deficient plants. These data reflect differences in the way metabolism was perturbed, yet both deficiencies were associated with increased root growth relative to shoot growth, starch accumulation in the shoots, and soluble carbohydrate accumulation, especially hexoses, in the roots. Enzymes for sucrose degradation (sucrose synthase, acid and alkaline invertase) and glycolysis (phosphofructokinase, pyrophosphate-dependent phospho-fructokinase and pyruvate kinase) remained unaltered or declined in the shoots and roots. The accumulation of hexoses in roots of N- and P-deficient plants may result from maintenance of high invertase activities relative to sucrose synthase and glycolytic enzymes in the roots. The possibility that hexose accumulation may drive preferential root growth osmotically in N and P deficiencies is discussed. The addition of sucrose to roots to further investigate the interaction of carbohydrates with growth and allocation in low N and low P produced clear effects even though endogenous levels of soluble carbohydrate were already high in the nutrient-deficient plants. In complete nutrition, growth was stimulated, protein content particularly of the roots was increased and there was a preferential increase in activity of sucrose synthase in roots. At low P, enzyme activities in roots were increased, including sucrose synthase, and protein content increased, particularly in the roots, but there was no increase in growth. In N-deficient plants, exogenous sucrose led to decreased protein, Rubisco and chlorophyll content in shoots, in contrast to the other conditions, and a higher protein content and a general increase of catabolic enzyme activities and growth in the roots.