We review recent progress in understanding cold and freezing stress responses in forage grass species, notably Lolium and Festuca species. The chromosomal positions of important frost tolerance and winter survival QTLs on Festuca and Lolium chromosomes 4 and 5 are most likely orthologs of QTLs on Triticeae chromosome 5 which correspond to a cluster of CBF-genes and the major vernalization gene. Gene expression and protein accumulation analyses after cold acclimation shed light on general responses to cold stress. These responses involve modulation of transcription levels of genes encoding proteins involved in cell signalling, cellular transport and proteins associated with the cell membrane. Also, abundance levels of proteins directly involved in photosynthesis were found to be different between genotypes of differing frost tolerance levels, stressing the importance of the link between the function of the photosynthetic apparatus under cold stress and frost tolerance levels. The significance of the ability to undergo photosynthetic acclimation and avoid photoinhibition is also evident from numerous studies in forage grasses. Other interesting candidate mechanisms for freezing tolerance in forage grasses are molecular responses to cold stress which have evolved after the divergence of temperate grasses. This includes metabolic machinery for synthesis of fructans and novel ice-binding proteins.
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