Roots of maize (Zea mays L.) seedlings continue to grow at low water potentials that cause complete inhibition of shoot growth. In this study, we have investigated the role of abscisic acid (ABA) in this differential growth sensitivity by manipulating endogenous ABA levels as an alternative to external applications of the hormone. An inhibitor of carotenoid biosynthesis (fluridone) and a mutant deficient in carotenoid biosynthesis (vp 5) were used to reduce the endogenous ABA content in the growing zones of the primary root and shoot at low water potentials. Experiments were performed on 30 to 60 hour old seedlings that were transplanted into vermiculite which had been preadjusted to water potentials of approximately -1.6 megapascals (roots) or -0.3 megapascals (shoots). Growth occurred in the dark at near-saturation humidity. Results of experiments using the inhibitor and mutant approaches were very similar. Reduced ABA content by either method was associated with inhibition of root elongation and promotion of shoot elongation at low water potentials, compared to untreated and wild-type seedlings at the same water potential. Elongation rates and ABA contents at high water potential were little affected. The inhibition of shoot elongation at low water potential was completely prevented in fluridone-treated seedlings during the first five hours after transplanting. The results indicate that ABA accumulation plays direct roles in both the maintenance of primary root elongation and the inhibition of shoot elongation at low water potentials.
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