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Are Methanol-Derived Foliar Methyl Acetate Emissions a Tracer of Acetate-Mediated Drought Survival in Plants?


Upregulation of acetate fermentation in plants has recently been described as an evolutionarily conserved drought survival strategy, with the amount of acetate produced directly correlating to survival. However, destructive measurements are required to evaluate acetate-linked drought responses, limiting the temporal and spatial scales that can be studied. Here, 13C-labeling studies with poplar (Populus trichocarpa) branches confirmed that methyl acetate is produced in plants from the acetate-linked acetylation of methanol. Methyl acetate emissions from detached leaves were strongly stimulated during desiccation, with total emissions decreasing with the leaf developmental stage. In addition, diurnal methyl acetate emissions from whole physiologically active poplar branches increased as a function of temperature, and light-dark transitions resulted in significant emission bursts lasting several hours. During experimental drought treatments of potted poplar saplings, light-dark methyl acetate emission bursts were eliminated while strong enhancements in methyl acetate emissions lasting > 6 days were observed with their initiation coinciding with the suppression of transpiration and photosynthesis. The results suggest that methyl acetate emissions represent a novel non-invasive tracer of acetate-mediated temperature and drought survival response in plants. The findings may have important implications for the future understanding of acetate-mediated drought responses to transcription, cellular metabolism, and hormone signaling, as well as its associated changes in carbon cycling and water use from individual plants to whole ecosystems.

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