What is stress? Concepts, definitions and applications in seed science


Author for correspondence:
Ilse Kranner
Tel: +44 1444 894157
Email: i.kranner@kew.org



I.Definitions of stress656
II.The seed life cycle revisited in view of the eustress–distress concept657
III.Common denominators of many stresses: reactive oxygen and nitrogen species660


‘Stresses’ that impact upon seeds can affect plant reproduction and productivity, and, hence, agriculture and biodiversity. In the absence of a clear definition of plant stress, we relate concepts from physics, medicine and psychology to stresses that are specific to seeds. Potential ‘eustresses’ that enhance function and ‘distresses’ that have harmful effects are considered in relation to the seed life cycle. Taking a triphasic biomedical stress concept published in 1936, the ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’, to the molecular level, the ‘alarm’ response is defined by post-translational modifications and stress signalling through cross-talk between reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, and seed hormones, that result in modifications to the transcriptome. Protection, repair, acclimation and adaptation are viewed as the ‘building blocks’ of the ‘resistance’ response, which, in seeds, are the basis for their longevity over centuries. When protection and repair mechanisms eventually fail, depending on dose and time of exposure to stress, cell death and, ultimately, seed death are the result, corresponding to ‘exhaustion’. This proposed seed stress concept may have wider applicability to plants in general.