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Ethylene-promoted adventitious rooting and development of cortical air spaces (aerenchyma) in roots may be adaptive responses to flooding in Zea mays L


The roots and stem base of intact, 10 day old maize (Zea mays L. cv. LG11) plants, grown in nutrient solution, were continuously aerated either with ethylene (5 μl l-1) in air or with air alone. Ethylene treatment hastened the emergence of adventitious (nodal) roots from the base of the shoot, but slowed their subsequent extension. Ethylene also promoted the collapse of cells in the cortex of these roots, with lysigenous development of prominent air spaces (aerenchyma). Non-aeration of the nutrient solution caused endogenously produced ethylene to accumulate in the roots, and stimulated both the emergence of adventitious roots and the formation of cortical air spaces in them. With non-aeration the concentration of oxygen did not fall below 1% in the equilibrium gas phase (air=20.8%). Complete deoxygenation of the nutrient solution, produced by passing oxygen-free nitrogen gas, prevented both air space formation and the evolution of ethylene by root segments.

These results suggest that adventitious rooting and cortical air space formation in nodal roots in Zea mays may be stimulated by enhanced concentrations of endogenous ethylene arising either from entrapment of the gas by unstirred water layers around the roots and/or by increased biosynthesis. These responses are considered conducive to survival in waterlogged soil.

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Drew, M.C., Jackson, M.B. & Giffard, S. Ethylene-promoted adventitious rooting and development of cortical air spaces (aerenchyma) in roots may be adaptive responses to flooding in Zea mays L. Planta 147, 83–88 (1979).

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Key words

  • Adventitious roots
  • Air spaces (aerenchyma)
  • Ethylene
  • Oxygen
  • Zea