The evaluation of biochemical markers is important for the understanding of the mechanisms of tolerance to salinity of Phaseolus beans. We have evaluated several growth parameters in young plants of three Phaseolus vulgaris cultivars subjected to four salinity levels (0, 50, 100, and 150 mM NaCl); one cultivar of P. coccineus, a closely related species reported as more salt tolerant than common bean, was included as external reference. Biochemical parameters evaluated in leaves of young plants included the concentrations of ions (Na⁺, K⁺, and Cl-), osmolytes (proline, glycine betaine, and total soluble sugars), and individual soluble carbohydrates. Considerable differences were found among cultivars, salinity levels, and in their interaction for most traits. In general, the linear component of the salinity factor for the growth parameters and biochemical markers was the most important. Large differences in the salinity response were found, with P. vulgaris cultivars "The Prince" and "Maxidor" being, respectively, the most susceptible and tolerant ones. Our results support that salt stress tolerance in beans is mostly based on restriction of Na⁺ (and, to a lesser extent, also of Cl-) transport to shoots, and on the accumulation of myo-inositol for osmotic adjustment. These responses to stress during vegetative growth appear to be more efficient in the tolerant P. vulgaris cultivar "Maxidor". Proline accumulation is a reliable marker of the level of salt stress affecting Phaseolus plants, but does not seem to be directly related to stress tolerance mechanisms. These results provide useful information on the responses to salinity of Phaseolus.
Keywords: Phaseolus; ions concentration; myo-inositol; osmotic adjustment; proline; salt tolerance.