Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Physiological and biochemical responses of Ricinus communis seedlings to different temperatures: a metabolomics approach

Paulo Roberto Ribeiro12*, Luzimar Gonzaga Fernandez2, Renato Delmondez de Castro2, Wilco Ligterink1* and Henk WM Hilhorst1

Author Affiliations

1 Wageningen Seed Lab, Laboratory of Plant Physiology, Wageningen University, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, Wageningen, 6708 PB, The Netherlands

2 Laboratório de Bioquímica, Biotecnologia e Bioprodutos, Departmento de Biofunção, Universidade Federal da Bahia, Reitor Miguel Calmon s/n, Salvador, 40160-100, Brazil

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BMC Plant Biology 2014, 14:223  doi:10.1186/s12870-014-0223-5

Published: 12 August 2014



Compared with major crops, growth and development of Ricinus communis is still poorly understood. A better understanding of the biochemical and physiological aspects of germination and seedling growth is crucial for the breeding of high yielding varieties adapted to various growing environments. In this context, we analysed the effect of temperature on growth of young R. communis seedlings and we measured primary and secondary metabolites in roots and cotyledons. Three genotypes, recommended to small family farms as cash crop, were used in this study.


Seedling biomass was strongly affected by the temperature, with the lowest total biomass observed at 20°C. The response in terms of biomass production for the genotype MPA11 was clearly different from the other two genotypes: genotype MPA11 produced heavier seedlings at all temperatures but the root biomass of this genotype decreased with increasing temperature, reaching the lowest value at 35°C. In contrast, root biomass of genotypes MPB01 and IAC80 was not affected by temperature, suggesting that the roots of these genotypes are less sensitive to changes in temperature. In addition, an increasing temperature decreased the root to shoot ratio, which suggests that biomass allocation between below- and above ground parts of the plants was strongly affected by the temperature. Carbohydrate contents were reduced in response to increasing temperature in both roots and cotyledons, whereas amino acids accumulated to higher contents. Our results show that a specific balance between amino acids, carbohydrates and organic acids in the cotyledons and roots seems to be an important trait for faster and more efficient growth of genotype MPA11.


An increase in temperature triggers the mobilization of carbohydrates to support the preferred growth of the aerial parts, at the expense of the roots. A shift in the carbon-nitrogen metabolism towards the accumulation of nitrogen-containing compounds seems to be the main biochemical response to support growth at higher temperatures. The biochemical changes observed in response to the increasing temperature provide leads into understanding plant adaptation to harsh environmental conditions, which will be very helpful in developing strategies for R. communis crop improvement research.

Carbon-nitrogen balance; Castor bean; Ricinus communis; Seedling establishment; Temperature