Plant Response and Tolerance to Abiotic Oxidative Stress: Antioxidant Defense Is a Key Factor

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In a persistently changing environment, plants are constantly challenged by various abiotic stresses such as salinity, drought, temperature extremes, heavy metal toxicity, high-light intensity, nutrient deficiency, UV-B radiation, ozone, etc. which cause substantial losses in the yield and quality of a crop. A key sign of such stresses at the molecular level is the accelerated production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as singlet oxygen (1O2), superoxide (O2•−), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and hydroxyl radicals (OH•). ROS are extremely reactive in nature because they can interact with a number of cellular molecules and metabolites, thereby leading to irreparable metabolic dysfunction and death. Plants have well-developed enzymatic and non-enzymatic scavenging pathways or detoxification systems to counter the deleterious effects of ROS that include the enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), ascorbate peroxidase (APX), monodehydroascorbate reductase (MDHAR), dehydroascorbate reductase (DHAR), glutathione reductase (GR), glutathione S-transferase (GST), glutathione peroxidase (GPX) and peroxidases (POX) as well as non-enzymatic compounds such as ascorbate (AsA), glutathione (GSH), carotenoids and tocopherols. In plant cells, specific ROS-producing and scavenging systems are found in different organelles and the ROS-scavenging pathways from different cellular compartments are coordinated. Recent studies in plants have shown that relatively low levels of ROS act as signaling molecules that induce abiotic stress tolerance by regulating the expression of defense genes. Additionally, numerous results have shown that plants with higher levels of antioxidants, whether constitutive or induced, showed greater resistance to different types of environmental stresses. In this chapter we attempt to summarize recent researches on the mechanisms and possible regulatory roles of ROS in abiotic stress tolerance. Further, we discuss the progress made during the last few decades in improving the oxidative stress tolerance of plants through genetic engineering by different components of ROS detoxification systems in plants.