Cold resistance in plants: A mystery unresolved
Herbaceous temperate plants are capable of developing freezing tolerance when they are exposed to low nonfreezing temperatures. Acquired freezing tolerance involves extensive reprogramming of gene expression and metabolism. Recent full-genome transcript profiling studies, in combination with mutational and transgenic plant analyses, have provided a snapshot of the complex transcriptional network that operates under cold stress. The changes in expression of hundreds of genes in response to cold temperatures are followed by increases in the levels of hundreds of metabolites, some of which are known to have protective effects against the damaging effects of cold stress. Genetic analysis has revealed important roles for cellular metabolic signals, and for RNA splicing, export and secondary structure unwinding, in regulating cold-responsive gene expression and chilling and freezing tolerance. These results along with many of the others summarized here further our understanding of the basic mechanisms that plants have evolved to survive freezing temperatures. In addition, the findings have potential practical applications, as freezing temperatures are a major factor limiting the geographical locations suitable for growing crop and horticultural plants and periodically account for significant losses in plant productivity. Although, great progress has been made in the field but lacunae still remain since it appears that the cold resistance is more complex than perceived and involves more than one pathway.