The vhb gene encoding Vitreoscilla haemoglobin (VHb) was transferred to barley with the aim of studying the role of oxygen availability in germination and growth. Previous findings indicate that VHb expression improves the efficiency of energy generation during oxygen-limited growth, and germination is known to be an energy demanding growth stage during which the embryos also suffer from oxygen deficiency. When subjected to oxygen deficiency, the roots of vhb-expressing barley plants showed a smaller increase in alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) activity than those of the control plants. This indicates that VHb plants experienced less severe oxygen deficiency than the control plants, possibly due to the ability of VHb to substitute ADH for recycling NADH and maintaining glycolysis. In contrast to previous findings, we found that constitutive vhb expression did not improve the germination rate of barley kernels in any of the conditions studied. In some cases, vhb expression even slowed down germination slightly. VHb production also appeared to restrict root formation in young seedlings. The adverse effects of VHb on germination and root growth may be related to its ability to scavenge nitric oxide (NO), an important signal molecule in both seed germination and root formation. Because NO has both cytotoxic and stimulating properties, the effect of vhb expression in plants may depend on the level and role of endogenous NO in the conditions studied. VHb production also affected the levels of endogenous barley haemoglobin, which may explain the relatively moderate effects of VHb in this study.
- Hordeum vulgare