ACC synthase expression regulates leaf performance and drought tolerance in maize


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Ethylene regulates entry into several types of plant developmental cell death and senescence programs besides mediating plant responses to biotic and abiotic stress. The response of cereals to conditions of drought includes loss of leaf function and premature onset of senescence in older leaves. In this study, ACC synthase (ACS) mutants, affecting the first step in ethylene biosynthesis, were isolated in maize and their effect on leaf function examined. Loss of ZmACS6 expression resulted in delayed leaf senescence under normal growth conditions and inhibited drought-induced senescence. Zmacs6 leaves continued to be photosynthetically active under both conditions indicating that leaf function was maintained. The delayed senescence phenotype associated with loss of ZmACS6 expression was complemented by exogenous ACC. Surprisingly, elevated levels of foliar chlorophyll, Rubisco, and soluble protein as well as improved leaf performance was observed for all Zmasc6 leaves, including young and fully expanded leaves which were far from initiating senescence. These observations suggest that ethylene may serve to regulate leaf performance throughout its lifespan as well as to determine the onset of natural senescence and mediate drought-induced senescence.