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Chill-responsive dehydrins in blueberry: Are they associated with cold hardiness or dormancy transitions?


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To survive winters, woody perennials of temperate zones must enter into endodormancy. Resumption of spring growth requires sufficient exposure to low temperature (chill units, CUs) in winter (chilling requirement), which also plays a role in the development of cold hardiness (cold acclimation). Physiological studies on dormancy breaking have focused on identifying markers, such as appearance or disappearance of proteins in response to varying degrees of chill unit accumulation. However, whether these changes are associated with dormancy transitions or cold acclimation is not clear. In the present study, greenhouse-grown blueberry (Vaccinium section Cyanococcus) plants were used to address this question. Three blueberry cultivars, Bluecrop, Tifblue, and Gulfcoast having chilling requirement of approximately 1 200, 900 and 600 CUs, respectively, were first exposed to 4°C for long enough to provide chill units equivalent to one-half of their respective chilling requirement. This treatment was expected to result in cold acclimation. A fraction of plants was then subjected to a 15/12°C (light/dark) regime for 2 weeks, a treatment expected to be “dormancy-neutral” but cause deacclimation. Before and after each treatment, cold hardiness and dormancy status of floral buds were determined; proteins were extracted from the buds collected on the same sampling date, and separated by one-dimensional SDS-PAGE. Dehydrin-like proteins were identified by immunoblotting, using anti-dehydrin antiserum. Results indicate that the chilling treatment resulted in cold acclimation as indicated by increased bud hardiness in all three cultivars. Data also indicate a distinct accumulation of three dehydrin-like proteins of 65, 60, and 14 kDa during cold acclimation. The cold hardiness and levels of dehydrin proteins decreased during the exposure to 15/12°C for 2 weeks. Results also confirmed that this treatment had no negative effect on chill unit accumulation. Densitometric scans of protein gels indicated a close association between the abundance of dehydrins and degree of cold hardiness in these cultivars. In addition, levels of the dehydrin proteins and cold hardiness remained about the same between 100% and >100% satisfaction of chilling requirement. These results suggest that changes in dehydrin expression are more closely associated with cold hardiness than with dormancy transitions.

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