Water deficit modulates growth, morphology, and the essential oil profile in Lippia alba L. (Verbenaceae) grown in vitro


Lippia alba (Miller) N.E. Brown is an aromatic plant species of great economic importance due to the medicinal properties of its essential oils, which provide stress relief, respiratory and gastrointestinal disease control, and anti-inflammatory and natural sedative effects. The plant is also effective in biological control against various pathogens and in food preservation. Water deficit is the most critical abiotic factor limiting plant growth and morpho-physiological development, as well as production of secondary metabolism compounds. The objective of this work was to evaluate the effect of water deficit on growth, photosynthesis, essential oil profile, and the expression of genes related to the biosynthesis of these compounds in L. alba grown in vitro. Nodal segments were cultured on medium supplemented with 0, 1, 2, and 3% (w/v) polyethylene glycol for 45 days. Water stress had a negative effect on primary metabolism indicators, such as growth, leaf area, and photosynthetic rate; but a positive effect on amino acid and total protein content. Similarly, secondary metabolism exhibited an increase in linalool but a reduction in germacrene levels under water deficit. These findings provide a deeper understanding of how water deficit affects primary and secondary metabolism in L. alba, showing the potential of this medicinal species to adapt to soils with low water availability, while still being able to grow and synthesize essential oils.

Key message

Water deficit significantly alters the percentage of the essential oil components linalool and germacrene in Lippia alba plants grown in vitro.

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We thank Dr. Fátima Salimena (Department of Botany, UFJF) for identifying the Lippia alba accessions. The authors also thank the Brazilian sponsoring agencies, CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico), FAPEMIG (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de Minas Gerais) and CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Ensino Superior), for financial support. We would like to thank Editage ( for English language editing.

Author information

KMC and DSB conceived and designed the experiments; KMC raised the in vitro plants; TDS, EAF, SHSF, AMF, and RMJS performed the morphoanatomical and physiological analyses; KMC, LSQN, VRC, and RMG performed the chemical analyses; KMC, DSB, LFV, RMG, and WCO contributed to the design and interpretation of the research and to the writing of the paper. All authors have read and approved the manuscript.

Correspondence to Wagner Campos Otoni.

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de Castro, K.M., Batista, D.S., Silva, T.D. et al. Water deficit modulates growth, morphology, and the essential oil profile in Lippia alba L. (Verbenaceae) grown in vitro. Plant Cell Tiss Organ Cult (2020).

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  • Abiotic stress
  • Germacrene
  • Linalool
  • Polyethylene glycol