Cytochrome respiration pathway and sulphur metabolism sustain stress tolerance to low temperature in the Antarctic species Colobanthus quitensis

New Phytol. 2020 Jan;225(2):754-768. doi: 10.1111/nph.16167. Epub 2019 Oct 21.


Understanding the strategies employed by plant species that live in extreme environments offers the possibility to discover stress tolerance mechanisms. We studied the physiological, antioxidant and metabolic responses to three temperature conditions (4, 15, and 23°C) of Colobanthus quitensis (CQ), one of the only two native vascular species in Antarctica. We also employed Dianthus chinensis (DC), to assess the effects of the treatments in a non-Antarctic species from the same family. Using fused LASSO modelling, we associated physiological and biochemical antioxidant responses with primary metabolism. This approach allowed us to highlight the metabolic pathways driving the response specific to CQ. Low temperature imposed dramatic reductions in photosynthesis (up to 88%) but not in respiration (sustaining rates of 3.0-4.2 μmol CO2 m-2 s-1 ) in CQ, and no change in the physiological stress parameters was found. Its notable antioxidant capacity and mitochondrial cytochrome respiratory activity (20 and two times higher than DC, respectively), which ensure ATP production even at low temperature, was significantly associated with sulphur-containing metabolites and polyamines. Our findings potentially open new biotechnological opportunities regarding the role of antioxidant compounds and respiratory mechanisms associated with sulphur metabolism in stress tolerance strategies to low temperature.

Keywords: Antarctica; antioxidant capacity; low temperature; photosynthesis; respiration; stress tolerance; sulphur metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antarctic Regions
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Caryophyllaceae / physiology*
  • Cell Respiration
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Cytochromes / metabolism*
  • Geography
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Photosynthesis
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Solubility
  • Species Specificity
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Sulfur / metabolism*


  • Antioxidants
  • Cytochromes
  • Plant Proteins
  • Sulfur
  • Carbon
  • Glutathione