• FAD3;
  • FAD8;
  • fatty acids;
  • osmotic stress;
  • heat stress;
  • tobacco


Changes in the degree of fatty acid (FA) desaturation are implicated in plant responses to various abiotic stresses, including heat, salt and drought. However, it is still not known whether decreased levels of linolenic acid, found in many plants subjected to salt and drought stress, reflect a mechanism of defence or damage. We addressed this question by generating tobacco cells and plants ectopically overexpressing two FA desaturases: the cytosolic FAD3 or the plastidic FAD8. A remarkable increase in the ratio of total linolenic to linoleic acids resulted from overexpression of FAD3, whereas ectopic overexpression of FAD8 induced an increased ratio mainly in the plastidic lipids. Here we present evidence that overexpressing FAD8 imposes much greater heat sensitivity than does FAD3 overexpression, in both cultured cells and whole plants. Overexpression of either FAD3 or FAD8 increases tolerance to drought in tobacco plants and to osmotic stress in cultured cells. These findings suggest that a drought-induced decreased level of linolenic acid reflects damage. Our results point to the potential of exploiting FAD overexpression as a tool to ameliorate drought tolerance.