An efficient antioxidant system is associated with lower photosynthesis photoinhibition and greater tolerance to drought in sugarcane cultivars
The occurrence of seasonal droughts is one of the main factors that limit the sugarcane ratoon cycles, compromising sugarcane field longevity. The aim of this study was to evaluate the biochemical responses of sugarcane cultivars to drought stress in ratoon crop. Six cultivars were used: RB72910, RB99382, RB72454, RB92579, RB855536 and RB931011, and three water regimes based on soil available water content (SAWC) and defined as: control, 80 to 100% (SAWC); moderate water stress, 40 to 60% (SAWC), and severe water stress, 0 to 20% (SAWC). Cultivar RB72454 was most sensitive to water deficit. When under stress, this cultivar showed an increased production of hydrogen peroxide, but without concomitant increase in the activity of the antioxidant enzymes ascorbate peroxidase, catalase and superoxide dismutase. Oxidative stress led to lipid peroxidation and chlorophyll degradation, resulting in higher photochemical photoinhibition. On the other hand, cultivar RB92579 was the most tolerant to drought, with increased activity of antioxidant enzymes, which led to low lipid peroxidation, maintenance of photosynthetic pigments and photochemical activity. The antioxidant defense system triggered by ascorbate peroxidase, catalase and superoxide dismutase enzymes appears to be a key protection factor to photochemical complexes of chloroplast of sugarcane plants under water stress. The increase in the antioxidant system as well as the maintenance of photosynthetic pigments and cell membranes served as important criteria to indicate cultivars more tolerant to drought stress.