Photosynthesis, N2 fixation and taproot reserves during the cutting regrowth cycle of alfalfa under elevated CO2 and temperature
Biological nitrogen fixation
Photosynthesis down-regulation
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Erice G, Sanz-Sáez A, Aranjuelo I, Irigoyen JJ, Aguirreolea J, Avice J-, et al. Photosynthesis, N2 fixation and taproot reserves during the cutting regrowth cycle of alfalfa under elevated CO2 and temperature. J Plant Physiol 2011 Nov 15;168(17):2007-2014.
Future climatic conditions, including rising atmospheric CO2 and temperature may increase photosynthesis and, consequently, plant production. A larger knowledge of legume performance under the predicted growth conditions will be crucial for safeguarding crop management and extending the area under cultivation with these plants in the near future. N2fixation is a key process conditioning plant responsiveness to varying growth conditions. Moreover, it is likely to increase under future environments, due to the higher photosynthate availability, as a consequence of the higher growth rate underelevated CO2. However, as described in the literature, photosynthesis performance is frequently down-regulated (acclimated) under long-term exposure to CO2, especially when affected by stressful temperature and water availability conditions. As growth responses to elevated CO2 are dependent on sink-source status, it is generally accepted that down-regulation occurs in situations with insufficient plant C sink capacity. Alfalfa management involves the cutting of shoots, which alters the source–sink relationship and thus the photosynthetic behaviour. As the growth rate decreases at the end of the pre-cut vegetative growth period, nodulated alfalfa plants show photosynthetic down-regulation, but during regrowth following defoliation, acclimation to elevated CO2 disappears. The shoot harvest also leads to a drop in mineral N uptake and C translocation to the roots, resulting in a reduction in N2fixation due to the dependence on photosynthate supply to support nodule function. Therefore, the production of new shoots during the first days following cutting requires the utilization of reduced C and N compounds that have been stored previously in reserve organs. The stored reserves are mediated by phytohormones such as methyl jasmonate and abscisic acid and in situations where water stress reduces shoot production this potentially enables the enhancement of taproot protein levels in nodulated alfalfa, which may lead to these plants being in better condition in the following cut/regrowthcycle. Furthering our knowledge of legume performance under predicted climate change conditions will be crucial for the development of varieties with better adaptation that will achieve greater and more efficient production values. Furthermore, for this purpose it will be necessary to improve existing methodologies and create new ones for phenotype characterization. Such knowledge will provide key information for future plant breeding programs.

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