Ethylene sensitivity affects changes in growth patterns, but not stem properties, in response to mechanical stress in tobacco




Plant responses to mechanical stress (e.g. wind or touch) involve a suite of physiologic and developmental changes, collectively known as thigmomorphogenesis, including reductions in height increment, Young’s modulus of stems, shoot growth, and seed production, and increased stem girth and root growth. A role of the phytohormone ethylene in thigmomorphogenesis has been proposed but the extent of this involvement is not entirely clear. To address this issue, wild-type (WT) and ethylene-insensitive transgenic (Tetr) tobacco (Nicotianum tabacum) plants were subjected to three levels of mechanical stress: 0, 25 and 75 daily flexures. Flexed plants produced shorter, thicker stems with a lower Young’s modulus than non-flexed ones, and these responses occurred independently of genotype. This suggests that ethylene does not play a role in thigmomorphogenesis-related changes in stem characteristics in tobacco. The effect of mechanical stress on dry mass increment (growth), on the other hand, differed between the genotypes: in the WT plants, shoot growth but not root growth was reduced under mechanical stress, resulting in reduced total growth and increased root mass fractions. In the Tetr plants, neither shoot nor root growth were affected. This suggests that ethylene is involved in the inhibition of tobacco shoot growth under mechanical stress.