Image_4_A Combined Phenotypic and Metabolomic Approach for Elucidating the Biostimulant Action of a Plant-Derived Protein Hydrolysate on Tomato Grown Under Limited Water Availability.PNG

<p>Plant-derived protein hydrolysates (PHs) are an important category of biostimulants able to increase plant growth and crop yield especially under environmental stress conditions. PHs can be applied as foliar spray or soil drench. Foliar spray is generally applied to achieve a relatively short-term response, whereas soil drench is used when a long-term effect is desired. The aim of the study was to elucidate the biostimulant action of PH application method (foliar spray or substrate drench) on morpho-physiological traits and metabolic profile of tomato grown under limited water availability. An untreated control was also included. A high-throughput image-based phenotyping (HTP) approach was used to non-destructively monitor the crop response under limited water availability (40% of container capacity) in a controlled environment. Moreover, metabolic profile of leaves was determined at the end of the trial. Dry biomass of shoots at the end of the trial was significantly correlated with number of green pixels (R<sup>2</sup> = 0.90) and projected shoot area, respectively. Both drench and foliar treatments had a positive impact on the digital biomass compared to control while the photosynthetic performance of the plants was slightly influenced by treatments. Overall drench application under limited water availability more positively influenced biomass accumulation and metabolic profile than foliar application. Significantly higher transpiration use efficiency was observed with PH-drench applications indicating better stomatal conductance. The mass-spectrometry based metabolomic analysis allowed the identification of distinct biochemical signatures in PH-treated plants. Metabolomic changes involved a wide and organized range of biochemical processes that included, among others, phytohormones (notably a decrease in cytokinins and an accumulation of salicylates) and lipids (including membrane lipids, sterols, and terpenes). From a general perspective, treated tomato plants exhibited an improved tolerance to reactive oxygen species (ROS)-mediated oxidative imbalance. Such capability to cope with oxidative stress might have resulted from a coordinated action of signaling compounds (salicylic acid and hydroxycinnamic amides), radical scavengers such as carotenoids and prenyl quinones, as well as a reduced biosynthesis of tetrapyrrole coproporphyrins.</p>