Table_1_Is Silicon a Panacea for Alleviating Drought and Salt Stress in Crops?.docx
Salinity affects around 20% of all arable land while an even larger area suffers from recurrent drought. Together these stresses suppress global crop production by as much as 50% and their impacts are predicted to be exacerbated by climate change. Infrastructure and management practices can mitigate these detrimental impacts, but are costly. Crop breeding for improved tolerance has had some success but is progressing slowly and is not keeping pace with climate change. In contrast, Silicon (Si) is known to improve plant tolerance to a range of stresses and could provide a sustainable, rapid and cost-effective mitigation method. The exact mechanisms are still under debate but it appears Si can relieve salt stress via accumulation in the root apoplast where it reduces “bypass flow of ions to the shoot. Si-dependent drought relief has been linked to lowered root hydraulic conductance and reduction of water loss through transpiration. However, many alternative mechanisms may play a role such as altered gene expression and increased accumulation of compatible solutes. Oxidative damage that occurs under stress conditions can be reduced by Si through increased antioxidative enzymes while Si-improved photosynthesis has also been reported. Si fertilizer can be produced relatively cheaply and to assess its economic viability to improve crop stress tolerance we present a cost-benefit analysis. It suggests that Si fertilization may be beneficial in many agronomic settings but may be beyond the means of smallholder farmers in developing countries. Si application may also have disadvantages, such as increased soil pH, less efficient conversion of crops into biofuel and reduced digestibility of animal fodder. These issues may hamper uptake of Si fertilization as a routine agronomic practice. Here, we critically evaluate recent literature, quantifying the most significant physiological changes associated with Si in plants under drought and salinity stress. Analyses show that metrics associated with photosynthesis, water balance and oxidative stress all improve when Si is present during plant exposure to salinity and drought. We further conclude that most of these changes can be explained by apoplastic roles of Si while there is as yet little evidence to support biochemical roles of this element.