• drought-responsive proteins;
  • soil drought;
  • ultrastructure;
  • wheat;
  • yield


Recurrent drought periods of varying duration often cause extensive crop damage and affect wheat production in Southern Europe. This study compares biochemical and ultrastructural responses of four wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) cultivars to long-term field drought, and their contribution to final grain yield. Gel electrophoresis and immunoblotting analyses combined with transmission electron microscopy and grain yield evaluation were employed to assess drought susceptibility of the wheat cultivars. Two of them behaved as drought-tolerant, the other two presented as drought sensitive. Enhanced degradation of Rubisco large subunit (RLS), Rubisco small subunit (RSS) and Rubisco activase (RA) accompanied by an increased protease activity and reduced levels of heat shock proteins (HSP70) and dehydrins (DHNs) were associated with drought sensitivity. Drought tolerance coincided with relatively stable or increased HSP70 and DHN contents, and unchanged/higher levels of RLS, RSS and RA. Sensitive cultivars were more vulnerable to ultrastructural damages, showing obvious degradation of chloroplast membrane systems and depletion of leaf starch reserves. These drought responses affected yield potential, as tolerant cultivars gave higher yield under intense drought. Thus, our results provide additional insights into the complexity of plant drought responses, identifying multiple interacting traits that may serve as indirect selection criteria for wheat drought tolerance.