, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 515-527

Cold stress tolerance mechanisms in plants. A review

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Abstract

The human population is increasing at an alarming rate, whereas at the same time agricultural productivity is decreasing due to the effect of various environmental problems. In particular, cold stress is a serious threat to the sustainability of crop yields. Indeed, cold stress can lead to major crop losses. Various phenotypic symptoms in response to cold stress include poor germination, stunted seedlings, yellowing of leaves (chlorosis), reduced leaf expansion and wilting, and may lead to death of tissue (necrosis). Cold stress also severely hampers the reproductive development of plants. The major negative effect of cold stress is that it induces severe membrane damage. This damage is largely due to the acute dehydration associated with freezing during cold stress. Cold stress is perceived by the receptor at the cell membrane. Then a signal is transduced to switch on the cold-responsive genes and transcription factors for mediating stress tolerance. Understanding the mechanism of cold stress tolerance and genes involved in the cold stress signaling network is important for crop improvement. Here, I review cold stress tolerance mechanisms in plants. The major points discussed are the following: (1) physiological effects of cold stress, (2) sensing of cold temperatures and signal transduction, and (3) the role of various cold-responsive genes and transcription factors in the mechanism of cold stress tolerance.