Nucleic acid damage and DNA repair are affected by freezing stress in annual wheat (Triticum aestivum) and by plant age and freezing in its perennial relative (Thinopyrum intermedium)

Am J Bot. 2020 Dec;107(12):1693-1709. doi: 10.1002/ajb2.1584. Epub 2020 Dec 19.


Premise: Nucleic acid integrity can be compromised under many abiotic stresses. To date, however, few studies have considered whether nucleic acid damage and damage repair play a role in cold-stress adaptation. A further insufficiently explored question concerns how age affects cold stress adaptation among mature perennials. As a plant ages, the optimal trade-off between growth and stress tolerance may shift.

Methods: Oxidative damage to RNA and expression of genes involved in DNA repair were compared in multiple mature cohorts of Thinopyrum intermedium (an emerging perennial cereal) and in wheat and barley under intermittent freezing stress and under nonfreezing conditions. Activity of glutathione peroxidase (GPX) and four other antioxidative enzymes was also measured under these conditions. DNA repair genes included photolyases involved in repairing ultraviolet-induced damage and two genes involved in repairing oxidatively induced damage (ERCC1, RAD23).

Results: Freezing stress was accompanied by large increases in photolyase expression and ERCC1 expression (in wheat and Thinopyrum) and in GPX and GR activity (particularly in Thinopyrum). This is the first report of DNA photolyases being overexpressed under freezing stress. Older Thinopyrum had lower photolyase expression and less freezing-induced overexpression of ERCC1. Younger Thinopyrum plants sustained more oxidative damage to RNA.

Conclusions: Overexpression of DNA repair genes is an important aspect of cold acclimation. When comparing adult cohorts, aging was associated with changes in the freezing stress response, but not with overall increases or decreases in stress tolerance.

Keywords: DNA damage; DNA repair; RNA damage; age; antioxidative; freezing tolerance; genotoxic; glutathione peroxidase; photolyase; wheatgrass.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • DNA Repair
  • Freezing
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Nucleic Acids*
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Poaceae
  • Triticum* / genetics
  • Triticum* / metabolism


  • Nucleic Acids
  • Plant Proteins