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Abstract

Drought, cold, high-salinity and heat are major abiotic stresses that severely reduce the yield of food crops worldwide. Traditional plant breeding approaches to improve abiotic stress tolerance of crops had limited success due to multigenic nature of stress tolerance. In the last decade, molecular techniques have been used to understand the mechanisms by which plants perceive environmental signals and further their transmission to cellular machinery to activate adaptive responses. This knowledge is critical for the development of rational breeding and transgenic strategies to impart stress tolerance in crops. Studies on physiological and molecular mechanisms of abiotic stress tolerance have led to characterisation of a number of genes associated with stress adaptation. Techniques like microarrays have proven to be invaluable in generating a list of stress-related genes. Some of these genes are specific for a particular stress while others are shared between various stresses. Interestingly, a number of

School of Applied Sciences, Health Innovations Research Institute, RMIT University, Melbourne 3000, VIC, Australia e-mail: [email protected]

V. Patade

Defence Research and Development Organisation, Defence Institute of Bio-Energy Research, Goraparao, Dist-Nainital 263139, Uttarakhand, India

S. Penna

Functional Plant Biology Section, Nuclear Agriculture and Biotechnology Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, Mumbai 400 085, India

R. Ford

Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, Melbourne School of Land and Environment, The University of Melbourne, Parkville 3010, VIC, Australia

P. Ahmad and M.N.V. Prasad (eds.), Abiotic Stress Responses in Plants: Metabolism, Productivity and Sustainability, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-0634-1_1, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

genes are shared in abiotic and biotic stress responses. This highlights the complexity of stress response and adaptation in plants. There is a whole cascade of genes involved in abiotic stress tolerance; starting from stress perception to transcriptional activation of downstream genes leading to stress adaptation and tolerance. A number of these genes have been discovered but we still do not have the complete list with all interactions. There is also significant number of genes with unknown functions found to be regulated by abiotic stresses. Understanding the function of these genes and their interaction with other known genes to effect stress adaptation is required.

The recent discovery that microRNAs regulate gene expression adds another layer of complexity to our understanding of abiotic stress tolerance. Significant amount of work will be needed to identify microRNAs associated with abiotic stress response, and understand their interaction with each other and their mechanism of regulating abiotic stress response. The promising side is the development of next-generation sequencing techniques that has allowed deep sequencing of mRNAs and microRNAs associated with abiotic stress response. A complete understanding on physiological and molecular mechanisms especially signalling cascades in response to abiotic stresses in tolerant plants will help to manipulate susceptible crop plants and increase agricultural productivity in the near future.

Keywords

Abiotic stress • Antioxidants • Ion homeostasis • MicroRNA • Osmotic adjustments • Signal transduction • Transgenic approaches

The major abiotic stresses (drought, high salinity, cold, and heat) negatively influence the survival, biomass production and yields of staple food crops up to 70% (Vorasoot et al. 2003; Kaur et al. 2008; Thakur et al. 2010) hence, threaten the food security worldwide. Dehydration stress imparted by drought, salinity and temperature severity is the most prevalent abiotic stress that limits plant growth and productivity (Vorasoot et al. 2003; Jaleel et al. 2009; Thakur et al. 2010) . Since tolerance to this stress is multi-genic and quantitative in nature (Collins et al. 2008), a massive challenge exists to understand the key molecular mechanisms for advanced selective breeding purposes. Traditional plant-breeding approaches have been marginally successful in improving the tolerances to these

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