Bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) is a major source of nutrition globally, but yields can be seriously compromised by water limitation. Redistribution of growth between shoots and roots is a common response to drought, promoting plant survival, but reducing yield. Gibberellins (GAs) are necessary for shoot and root elongation, but roots maintain growth at lower GA concentrations compared with shoots, making GA a suitable hormone for mediating this growth redistribution. In this study, the effect of progressive drought on GA content was determined in the base of the 4th leaf and root tips of wheat seedlings, containing the growing regions, as well as in the remaining leaf and root tissues. In addition, the contents of other selected hormones known to be involved in stress responses were determined. Transcriptome analysis was performed on equivalent tissues and drought-associated differential expression was determined for hormone-related genes.
After 5 days of applying progressive drought to 10-day old seedlings, the length of leaf 4 was reduced by 31% compared with watered seedlings and this was associated with significant decreases in the concentrations of bioactive GA1 and GA4 in the leaf base, as well as of their catabolites and precursors. Root length was unaffected by drought, while GA concentrations were slightly, but significantly higher in the tips of droughted roots compared with watered plants. Transcripts for the GA-inactivating gene TaGA2ox4 were elevated in the droughted leaf, while those for several GA-biosynthesis genes were reduced by drought, but mainly in the non-growing region. In response to drought the concentrations of abscisic acid, cis-zeatin and its riboside increased in all tissues, indole-acetic acid was unchanged, while trans-zeatin and riboside, jasmonate and salicylic acid concentrations were reduced.
Reduced leaf elongation and maintained root growth in wheat seedlings subjected to progressive drought were associated with attenuated and increased GA content, respectively, in the growing regions. Despite increased TaGA2ox4 expression, lower GA levels in the leaf base of droughted plants were due to reduced biosynthesis rather than increased catabolism. In contrast to GA, the other hormones analysed responded to drought similarly in the leaf and roots, indicating organ-specific differential regulation of GA metabolism in response to drought.