Rethinking temperature effects on leaf growth, gene expression and metabolism: Diel variation matters

Plant Cell Environ. 2021 Jul;44(7):2262-2276. doi: 10.1111/pce.13958. Epub 2020 Dec 15.


Plants have evolved to grow under prominently fluctuating environmental conditions. In experiments under controlled conditions, temperature is often set to artificial, binary regimes with constant values at day and at night. This study investigated how such a diel (24 hr) temperature regime affects leaf growth, carbohydrate metabolism and gene expression, compared to a temperature regime with a field-like gradual increase and decline throughout 24 hr. Soybean (Glycine max) was grown under two contrasting diel temperature treatments. Leaf growth was measured in high temporal resolution. Periodical measurements were performed of carbohydrate concentrations, carbon isotopes as well as the transcriptome by RNA sequencing. Leaf growth activity peaked at different times under the two treatments, which cannot be explained intuitively. Under field-like temperature conditions, leaf growth followed temperature and peaked in the afternoon, whereas in the binary temperature regime, growth increased at night and decreased during daytime. Differential gene expression data suggest that a synchronization of cell division activity seems to be evoked in the binary temperature regime. Overall, the results show that the coordination of a wide range of metabolic processes is markedly affected by the diel variation of temperature, which emphasizes the importance of realistic environmental settings in controlled condition experiments.

Keywords: circadian; controlled conditions; fluctuating temperature; natural environment; storage carbohydrates.

MeSH terms

  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis
  • Circadian Clocks / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Plant Cells
  • Plant Leaves / cytology
  • Plant Leaves / growth & development*
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism*
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Soybeans / cytology
  • Soybeans / physiology*
  • Starch / metabolism
  • Sugars / metabolism
  • Switzerland
  • Temperature
  • Vapor Pressure


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Plant Proteins
  • Sugars
  • Starch
  • Carbon-13