In modern agriculture, ensuring crop resiliency to environmental stress is just as crucial as meeting the nutritional demands of a growing global population. Carotenoids, a group of pigments found in plants, play a pivotal role in this endeavor. Not only are they essential for human health, but they also protect plants from damage caused by stresses like low temperatures. A recent study led by a team of international researchers has uncovered insights that could lead to more robust maize crops with enhanced nutritional profiles, emphasizing the role of specific plant hormones in mediating stress responses and nutrient content.

The Interplay of Hormones and Temperature in Maize

The research, conducted by Xiang Nan and colleagues from the South China University of Technology and the University of British Columbia, investigates the influence of exogenous abscisic acid (ABA) and salicylic acid (SA) on the carotenoid biosynthesis pathway of maize seedlings under the stress of low temperature.

Their findings, “Modulation of Carotenoid Biosynthesis in Maize (Zea mays L.) Seedlings by Exogenous Abscisic Acid and Salicylic Acid Under Low Temperature,” shine a light on the delicate interplay between plant metabolism and external hormonal cues. This complex interaction holds the key to increasing the resilience and nutritional value of crops, which is essential for ensuring food security for future generations.

Low temperatures often stunt the growth of maize seedlings and inhibit the accumulation of carotenoids. However, carotenoids are not only vital for the proper growth of the plant—offering protection against such chilling stresses—they are also important dietary components that promote human health, thanks to their role as antioxidants and as precursors to vitamin A.

The study, published in an esteemed scientific journal, delves into the effects of ABA and SA: two plant hormones known to influence various biological processes, including stress responses.

The Protective Role of Abscisic Acid

The study demonstrates that when ABA is applied to maize seedlings facing low-temperature conditions, it interacts with ABA-responsive cis-acting elements (ABREs) in the promoter regions of three genes involved in carotenoid biosynthesis: PSY3, ZDS, and CHYB. By activating these genes, ABA appears to offset the chilling stress, effectively increasing the total carotenoid concentration.

This remarkable result supports the theory that ABA assists in priming plant defenses against environmental stress by modulating specific stress-related genes. In effect, ABA serves not only as a plant growth regulator but also as a protective agent, enhancing the plants’ natural resilience and recovery after exposure to stress conditions.

The Complicated Effects of Salicylic Acid

On the other hand, SA’s impact on alleviating chilling stress was not as significant. However, the study found that SA treatment could increase neoxanthin levels, a specific carotenoid with potential health benefits. This suggests that while SA may not be as effective in mitigating overall stress, it could be employed as a strategy for biofortifying maize with specific beneficial compounds.

Insights into Carotenoid Biosynthesis Genes

The researchers also studied the correlation between various genes and the levels of different carotenoids. PSY1, a gene encoding for phytoene synthase, showed a strong correlation with β-carotene and zeaxanthin, two key carotenoids. Moreover, the CRTISO gene was found to be closely linked with total carotenoid accumulation.

These observations imply that manipulating gene expression could be a strategy for enriching the nutritional content of maize, enabling the development of crops that not only withstand environmental conditions but also serve as better sources of nutrients.

Implications and Future Perspectives

Xiang Nan and the team’s research offers promising strategies for mitigating chilling stress and fortifying the nutritional content of maize. The application of exogenous ABA has clear benefits for both stress resistance and carotenoid levels in maize seedlings, while SA presents a more targeted approach for enhancing specific carotenoids like neoxanthin.

The implications of these findings are significant, going beyond maize cultivation. As climate change continues to pose formidable challenges for agriculture worldwide, understanding the mechanisms by which plants can be fortified against stress and simultaneously enriched with essential nutrients is critical.

The researchers have thus paved the way for a better understanding of plant physiology and biofortification. That being said, while the study offers remarkable insights, it also raises questions about the broader applicability of hormone treatments in diverse crop species and agricultural practices.

Future research should investigate the long-term effects of ABA and SA treatments on plant health and yield, the potential interactions with other agricultural inputs, and the feasibility of integrating these strategies into sustainable farming systems.

The work of Xiang Nan and associates represents an essential step toward a future where crops are resilient against environmental stress and loaded with beneficial compounds for human health. Their findings contribute to a growing body of knowledge that aids in achieving global food security while promoting the health and well-being of populations worldwide.

As the world contends with the complexities of climate change and a burgeoning global population, advances like these ensure that agriculture can evolve to meet the demands of the future. The modulation of plant hormones has the potential to revolutionize crop production, enabling us to grow healthier plants in colder climates, thus ensuring that even under adverse conditions, the agricultural sector can maintain productivity and contribute to the nutritional needs of all.

The research references a diverse range of literature, attesting to the interdisciplinary nature of this study. Key sources include a spectrum of research on low temperature responses in maize, regulatory functions of ABA and SA in stress mitigation, the antioxidative properties of carotenoids, and genetic analyses associating gene expression with carotenoid synthesis.


  1. Aroca R, Tognoni F, Irigoyen JJ, Sánchez-Díaz M, Pardossi A (2001) Different root low temperature response of two maize genotypes differing in chilling sensitivity. Plant Physiol and Bioch 39:1067–1073. 10.1016/S0981-9428(01)01335-3
  2. Battal P, Erez ME, Turker M, Berber I (2008) Molecular and physiological changes in maize (Zea mays) induced by exogenous NAA, ABA and MeJa during cold stress. Ann Bot Fenn 45:173–185. 10.5735/085.045.0302
  3. Cao DD, Hu J, Zhu SJ, Hu WM, Knapp A (2010) Relationship between changes in endogenous polyamines and seed quality during development of sh2 sweet corn (Zea mays L.) seed. Sci Hortic 123:301–307. 10.1016/j.scienta.2009.10.006
  4. Cazzaniga S, Li Z, Niyogi KK, Bassi R, Dall’Osto L, (2012) The Arabidopsis szl1 mutant reveals a critical role of β-carotene in photosystem i photoprotection. Plant Physiol 159:1745–1758. 10.1104/pp.112.201137 23029671 3425210
  5. Cervantes-Paz B, Victoria-Campos CI, Ornelas-Paz JdJ (2016) Absorption of carotenoids and mechanisms involved in their health-related properties. In: Stange C (ed) Carotenoids in nature: biosynthesis, regulation and function. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp 415–454. 10.1007/978-3-319-39126-7_16
  6. Christou A, Manganaris GA, Fotopoulos V (2014) Systemic mitigation of salt stress by hydrogen peroxide and sodium nitroprusside in strawberry plants via transcriptional regulation of enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants. Environ Exp Bot 107:46–54. 10.1016/j.envexpbot.2014.05.009
  7. Ding D, Li J, Xie J, Li N, Bakpa EP, Han K, Yang Y, Wang C (2022) Exogenous zeaxanthin alleviates low temperature combined with low light induced photosynthesis inhibition and oxidative stress in pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) plants. Curr Issues Mol Biol 44:2453–2471. 10.3390/cimb44060168 35735609 9221838
  8. Du H, Wang N, Cui F, Li X, Xiao J, Xiong L (2010) Characterization of the β-carotene hydroxylase gene DSM2 conferring drought and oxidative stress resistance by increasing xanthophylls and abscisic acid synthesis in rice. Plant Physiol 154:1304–1318. 10.1104/pp.110.163741 20852032 2971608
  9. Feng Q, Yang S, Wang YJ, Lu L, Sun MT, He CX, Wang J, Li YS, Yu XC, Li QY, Yan Y (2021) Physiological and molecular mechanisms of ABA and CaCl 2 regulating chilling tolerance of cucumber seedlings. Plants-Basel 10:2746. 10.3390/plants10122746 34961219 8705041
  10. Fernández-Marín B, Roach T, Verhoeven A, García-Plazaola JI (2021) Shedding light on the dark side of xanthophyll cycles. New Phytol 230:1336–1344. 10.1111/nph.17191 33452715


Categorized in:

Health News,

Last Update: January 10, 2024