Stay-green plants: what do they tell us about the molecular mechanism of leaf senescence
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- Kusaba, M., Tanaka, A. & Tanaka, R. Photosynth Res (2013) 117: 221. doi:10.1007/s11120-013-9862-x
A practical approach to increasing crop yields is to extend the duration of active photosynthesis. Stay-green is a term that is used to describe mutant and transgenic plants or cultivars with the trait of maintaining their leaves for a longer period of time than the wild-type or crosses from which they are derived. Analyzing stay-green genotypes contributes to our understanding of the molecular mechanism regulating leaf senescence which may allow us to extend the duration of active photosynthesis in crop plants. This article summarizes recent studies on stay-green plants and the insights they provide on the mechanism of leaf senescence. Briefly, mutations suppressing ethylene, abscisic acid, brassinosteroid, and strigolactone signal transduction or those activating cytokinin signaling often lead to stay-green phenotypes indicating a complex signaling network regulating leaf senescence. Developmentally regulated transcription factors, including NAC or WRKY family members, play key roles in the induction of leaf senescence and thus alteration in the activity of these transcription factors also result in stay-green phenotypes. Impairment in the enzymatic steps responsible for chlorophyll breakdown also leads to stay-green phenotypes. Some of these genotypes die in the middle of the process of chlorophyll breakdown due to the accumulation of toxic intermediates, while others appear to stay-green but their photosynthetic activity declines in a manner similar to wild-type plants. Alterations in certain metabolic pathways in chloroplasts (e.g., photosynthesis) can lead to a delayed onset of leaf senescence with maintenance of photosynthetic activity longer than wild-type plants, indicating that chloroplast metabolism can also affect the regulatory mechanism of leaf senescence.