Living under a 'dormant' canopy: A molecular acclimation mechanism of the desert plant Retama raetam

Ron Mittler, Emmanuelle Merquiol, Elza Hallak-Herr, Shimon Rachmilevitch, Aaron Kaplan, Mira Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Desert plants are exposed to a combination of environmental stress conditions, including low water availability, extreme temperature fluctuations, high irradiance and nutrient deprivation. Studying desert plants within their natural habitat may therefore reveal novel mechanisms and strategies that enable plants to resist stressful conditions. We studied the acclimation of Retama raetam, an evergreen stem-assimilating desert plant, to growth within an arid dune ecosystem. Retama raetam contained two different populations of stems: those of the upper canopy, exposed to direct sunlight, and those of the lower canopy, protected from direct sunlight. During the dry season, stems of the upper canopy contained a very low level of a number of essential proteins, including the large and small subunits of rubisco, ascorbate peroxidase and the D1 subunit of the reaction centre of photosystem II. However, RNA encoding these proteins was present; cytosolic transcripts were associated with polysomes, while chloroplastic transcripts were not. Upon water application, as well as following the first rainfall of the season, these 'photosynthetically suppressed' stems recovered and accumulated essential proteins within 6-24 h. In contrast, stems of the lower canopy contained the essential proteins throughout the dry season. We suggest that R. raetam uses an acclimation strategy of 'partial plant dormancy' in order to survive the dry season. 'Dormancy', as evident by the post-transcriptional suppression of gene expression, as well as the suppression of photosynthesis, was induced specifically in stems of the upper canopy which protect the lower canopy by shading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-416
Number of pages10
JournalPlant Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - 5 Apr 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Desert plant
  • Dormancy
  • Drought
  • Environmental stress
  • Reactive oxygen
  • Retama raetam


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