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Organic acid exudation as an aluminum-tolerance mechanism in maize (Zea mays L.)

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In this study, the role of root organic acid synthesis and exudation in the mechanism of aluminum tolerance was examined in Al-tolerant (South American 3) and Al-sensitive (Tuxpeño and South American 5) maize genotypes. In a growth solution containing 6 μM Al3+, Tuxpeño and South American 5 were found to be two- and threefold more sensitive to Al than South American 3. Root organic acid content and organic acid exudation from the entire root system into the bulk solution were investigated via high-performance liquid chromatographic analysis while exudates collected separately from the root apex or a mature root region (using a dividedroot-chamber technique) were analyzed with a more-sensitive ion chromatography system. In both the Al-tolerant and Al-sensitive lines, Al treatment significantly increased the total root content of organic acids, which was likely the result of Al stress and not the cause of the observed differential Al tolerance. In the absence of Al, small amounts of citrate were exuded into the solution bathing the roots. Aluminum exposure triggered a stimulation of citrate release in the Al-tolerant but not in the Al-sensitive genotypes; this response was localized to the root apex of the Al-tolerant genotype. Additionally, Al exposure triggered the release of phosphate from the root apex of the Al-tolerant genotype. The same solution Al3+ activity that elicited the maximum difference in Al sensitivity between Al-tolerant and Al-sensitive genotypes also triggered maximal citrate release from the root apex of the Al-tolerant line. The significance of citrate as a potential detoxifier for aluminum is discussed. It is concluded that organic acid release by the root apex could be an important aspect of Al tolerance in maize.

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South American 3, an Al-tolerant maize cultivar


South American 5, an Al-sensitive maize cultivar


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Correspondence to Leon V. Kochian.

Additional information

The authors would like to express their appreciation to Drs. John Thompson, Ross Welch and Mr. Stephen Schaefer for their training and guidance in the use of the chromatography systems. This work was supported by a Swiss National Science Foundation Fellowship to Didier Pellet, and U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Research Initiative Competitive Grant 93-37100-8874 to Leon Kochian. We would also like to thank Drs. S. Pandey and E. Ceballos from the CIMMYT Regional office at CIAT Cali, Colombia for providing seed for the maize varieties and inbred line.

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Pellet, D.M., Grunes, D.L. & Kochian, L.V. Organic acid exudation as an aluminum-tolerance mechanism in maize (Zea mays L.). Planta 196, 788–795 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01106775

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Key words

  • Aluminum tolerance
  • Citrate
  • Malate
  • Phosphate
  • Root (apex, exudate)
  • Zea (Al tolerance)