Modifying Plant Growth and Yield Using Zearalenone

Our studies show that zearalenone can be used to increase the yield of wheat (Biesaga-Koscielniak et al. 2006a, b). Plants that were sprayed with zearalenone during the heading stage increased their number of grains per ear and their weight per 1,000 grains. Watering and soaking wheat grains produced even better effects in comparison to spraying (Biesaga-Koscielniak et al. 2006a). Zearalenone-treated plants had a higher number and weight per ear and weight per 1,000 grains. The reproduction of plants was also increased. The best results (yield increase) were noted for a zearalenone concentration of 4 mg/dm3. In soybean cultivation, treating plants with zearalenone also increased their yield (Biesaga-Koscielniak et al. 2006b) (Fig. 15.3). Watering seedlings, soaking seeds and spraying plants increased the yield, the number of pods and the number of grains per pod and per soybean plants. The increase in the yield of soybean and wheat cultivars in comparison to controls (without zearalenone treatment) was 22% and 19% in terms of the number of seeds (grains) and 28% and 24% in terms of the weight of seeds (grains), respectively.

Zearalenone

Fig. 15.3 Changes in leaves' shape and height of soybean plants after soaking of seeds in zearalenone solution. (a) The picture of the field with plants grown from seeds treated with zearalenone (left side) and non-zearalenone treated (control, right side). (b) Dark-green leaves of soybean plants which were grown from zearalenone-treated seeds. (c) Control plants with visible light-green leaves

Fig. 15.3 Changes in leaves' shape and height of soybean plants after soaking of seeds in zearalenone solution. (a) The picture of the field with plants grown from seeds treated with zearalenone (left side) and non-zearalenone treated (control, right side). (b) Dark-green leaves of soybean plants which were grown from zearalenone-treated seeds. (c) Control plants with visible light-green leaves

The effect of zearalenone on crop development may be connected to its influence on the status and functioning of the photosynthetic apparatus (Koscielniak et al. 2008). The after-effects of zearalenone on the growth of soybean and wheat plants, net photosynthesis and transpiration rates, stomatal conductance, photochemical efficiency of photosystem 2 and on final seeds yield were determined. Modifications in leaf area were more pronounced in soybean than in wheat, and this tendency increases in successive developmental phases. The net photosynthesis was stimulated during the juvenile phase and during that of the final one by about 13.6% (average) in soybean plants. Stimulation of transpiration was also observed after zearalenone treatment on both plant species. The response of CO2 assimilation in wheat plants was less pronounced when compared to that in soybean. Additionally, the quantum yield of photosystem 2 photochemistry in soybean plants increased rapidly after the seeds were treated with zearalenone, and was higher in wheat plants where this parameter increased constantly during whole period of growth (Koscielniak et al. 2008).

The observed effects of zearalenone action on plant development may be connected to the properties of zearalenone, as a component of mycotoxines. It is known that some stress factors (also toxic chemicals) accelerate plant development and stimulate their generative induction. However, our results (data in preparation) indicate that zearalenone may protect cells from some forms of stress. In drought, stresses induced by either NaCl or changes in water potential (poly(ethylene glycol) content), zearalenone applied in concentrations 2 and 4 mg/dm3 decreased the inhibiting effect of both these stresses on wheat seedlings and significantly increased the dry mass and length of plants. This effect was especially visible in parts of plants aboveground where an increase of about 84% was detected. In roots, zearalenone stimulated about 42% increase in mass in NaCl conditions in comparison to the control (non-zearalenone-treated) plants. Moreover, at the water potential of -0.5 MPa, the dry mass of shoots in plant cultures treated with zearalenone was 58% higher than that of the control (0 MPa). This protective effect of zearalenone may be a result of its ability to increase the metabolism of seedlings. This effect was confirmed by calorimetric measurements, which indicated an increase in the heat energy emitted by wheat plants treated with zearalenone, where this metabolism parameter increased by about 16% in comparison to non-zearalenone-treated plants.

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