Antioxidant enzyme activity, proline accumulation, leaf area and cell membrane stability in water stressed Amaranthus leaves
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Traditional crops are extremely important for food production in low income, food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) where they continue to be maintained by socio-cultural preferences and traditional uses. Significant potential exists to improve these crops, one of which is to select for improved productivity during moisture stress conditions. Germplasm of Amaranthus tricolor, Amaranthus hypochondriacus and Amaranthus hybridus were subjected to various screening methods to measure metabolic and physiological changes during water stress. The activities of enzymes involved in the oxygen-scavenging system during abiotic stress conditions (superoxide dismutase (SOD), ascorbate peroxidase (APX) and glutathione reductase (GR)), free proline production, leaf area (LA), cell membrane stability (CMS), leaf water potential (LWP) and relative water content (RWC) were measured in these three amaranth species during induced water stress. This study showed significant differences in metabolic responses during water deficit of the three species tested. Moisture stress and a decrease in RWC and LWP were first experienced in A. hybridus and A. hypochondriacus, followed by A. tricolor. There was an indirect correlation between leaf water status (RWC and LWP), enzyme activity, proline production and leaf area. The combined effect of GR, APX and SOD could ensure higher levels of regulation of the toxic effect of H2O2 which could be associated with drought tolerance in Amaranthus. Distinct differences in onset of proline accumulation and the amount of accumulated in leaves upon induced water stress was noticed for the three amaranth species tested. Proline accumulation during water stress conditions in amaranth seems to be indirect and could possibly have a protective role apart from osmoregulation during stress conditions. This contention is supported by the decrease in leaf area and high cell membrane stability for two of the species tested. This study forms part of a project aimed at the development of improved traditional crops to contribute to food production and quality for subsistence farmers in areas with low precipitation or variable rainfall patterns.