Journal of Rural Development and Agriculture (2017) 2(1): 1-10
Impact of salt, drought, heat and frost stresses on morpho-
biochemical and physiological properties of Brassica species:
An updated review
Sohail Ahmad Jan
1, 2
*, Nazma Bibi
, Zabta Khan Shinwari
1, 4
, Malik Ashiq Rabbani
, Sana Ullah
, Abdul
and Nadar Khan
ABSTRACT Abiotic stresses seriously impact crop productivity and agro-morphological and biochemical
properties of all Brassica species. It also decreases the yield of many important Brassica species by disturbing
their normal growth and development. In this review, we have highlighted the latest reports about the impact
of different abiotic stresses on different growth stages and other morpho-physiological processes of
important Brassica species such as canola/rapeseed (Brassica napus), indian mustard (Brassica juncea),
Brassica oleracea and Brassica rapa. Several researchers reported that abiotic stresses affect the important
morpho-biochemical processes such as shoot and root length, shoot fresh and dry weight, proline and relative
water contents, chlorophyll amount, antioxidant enzymes activity of important Brassica species. These
stresses also disturb normal oxidative processes that lead to cell injury. The genetic modification approaches
for the development of transgenic plants against these environmental extremes have been described. The
present study will be useful to identify the best abiotic stress tolerant Brassica genotypes for further genetic
engineering program and crop improvement programs.
Keywords: Abiotic stresses, Brassica species, Morpho-biochemical, Transgenic Brassica species
Department of Biotechnology, Quaid-i- Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan
Plant Genetic Resources Institute (PGRI), National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC), Islamabad, Pakistan
Department of Genetics, Hazara University Mansehra, Pakistan
Pakistan Academy of Sciences, Islamabad, Pakistan
Department of Botany, Hazara University Mansehra, Pakistan
*Corresponding author: Sohail Ahmad Jan (;
To cite this article as: Jan, S. A., Bibi, N., Shinwari, K. S., Rabbani, M. A., Sana Ullah, Qadir, A., & Khan, N.
(2017). Impact of salt, drought, heat and frost stresses on morpho-biochemical and physiological properties
of Brassica species: An updated review. Journal of Rural Development and Agriculture, 2(1), 1-10.
Abiotic stress affects the growth, development, yield and other physiological characters of different Brassica
species. The effect on these characters is directly correlated with economically yield loss of crop plants.
Various researchers conducted studies to screen the abiotic stress tolerant Brassica genotypes for further
study in environmental stress affected areas. The detailed information about the effect of all sort of abiotic
stresses on important Brassica species is given below:
Effect of salt stress on important properties of Brassica species
Salt stress is one of the major abiotic stresses that affects plant growth and its production (Allakhverdiev et
al., 2000; Hasanuzzaman et al., 2017; Nejat & Mantri, 2017). About 20% of our cultivated lands and 50% of
crop land are highly affected by salt stress (Lakhdar et al., 2009). It is estimated that more than 50% of our
arable lands will be affected by this type of stress by the year 2050 (Wang et al., 2003). This stress can be
determined at time when plant death occurs or when it badly affects its morpho-physiological process.
However, the abiotic stress tolerance varies with plant species/sub-species. Therefore, development of
abiotic stress tolerant varieties is so important (Zheng et al., 2009). Salt stress affects both the qualitative and
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quantitative characters of important Brassica species such as canola (Brassica napus L.), Indian mustard
(Brassica juncea L.), cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.) and turnip rape (Brassica rapa L.). The diploid nature of
Brassica rapa is more sensitive to salt stress as compared to other polyploid species i.e. B. napus (Farhoudi et
al., 2015; Kumar, 1995). The high salt concentration in soil and irrigation water decreases the germination
rate of almost all Brassica species. Sometime plant germination can occur but shows stunted growth and poor
development (Zamani et al., 2010). So, it is important to identify and characterize improved genotypes
against these environmental extremes (Almodares et al., 2007; Islam & Karim, 2010).
Salt stress affects the N (nitrogen) uptake and its assimilation process in many plant species. The high level
of salt affects various enzymes of B. juncea such as nitrite reductase (NiR), glutamine synthetase (GS),
glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) and asparagines synthetase (ASN) (Siddiqui et al., 2009). It also disturbs
plant biomass, root and shoots length, CO
assimilation rate of B. juncea (Ahmad et al., 2012). The other
morpho-biochemical and physiological processes such as growth rate, chlorophyll contents, leaf area index,
flower abortion and N, K and P contents are also significantly affected in many Brassica species (Hayat et al.,
Canola shows moderate level of resistance to salinity. But, its growth and productivity are highly affected
by different salt concentraions (Lomonte et al., 2010). Salt affects the photosynthetic rate, growth and sodium
) ion accumulation and distribution in leaf area of two important canola genotypes (NYY 1 and BZY 1).
The plant dry biomass, overall photosynthesis, Na
level and net water potential rates in leaf area were higher
in genotype NYY 1 as compared to other genotype (BZY 1). However, the %Na
content in leaf symplast
remained higher in genotype NYY 1. The moderate salt level (3 g/kg) has slight effects on the stomatal
conductance. While high salt levels (6 and 9 g/kg NaCl) significantly affects the assimilation rate due to
stomatal and non-stomatal limitations and leads leaf necrosis and stunted growth. The high salt resistant
potential in genotype NYY 1 is due to low accumulation of Na
in shoot area confined Na
to the apoplast area
thus lowering leaf toxicity. This is one reason that genotype NYY 1 shows more tolerance than that of BZY 1.
Hence salt tolerance response varies with the type of genotype (Yang et al., 2012). The shoot, root fresh and
dry weights of canola plants decreased with all salt stress levels (50, 100, 150 and 150 mmol) (Sergeeva et al.,
2006). Similarly, the percent relative water contents 24 hours also decline with the increasing NaCl levels (0,
100, 150, 200, 250 and 300 mM) in many important canola cultivars. It means that water loss from leaves
occur at high rate at elevated NaCl concentration (Dai et al., 2009).
Elevated salt concentrations (12 and 15 dSm
) significantly decreased the germination rate, root shoot
length and seedling dry weight many folds of kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes). While it showed
good morpho-physiological performance at up to 9 dSm
NaCl (Biswas et al., 2016). Kandil et al. (2016)
reported that salinity stress affects all the ten tested canola genotypes. However, the salt tolerance level
varied among genotypes. The cultivar Screw 6 showed excellent morphogenic response for all quantitative
traits like root/shoot length and root/shoot fresh and dry weights. While cultivar Screw 51 gave better
seedling height, total chlorophyll contents and relative dry weight. However, these characters were highly
affected at high NaCl concentration (1.8%). Umar et al. (2011) also observed different type of responses at
different salinity levels of many imported B. rapa genotypes. The abiotic stress decreased the amounts of
chlorophyll a, b and a+b up to several folds of B. napus, B. juncea and B. rapa genotypes (Alam et al., 2014).
Salt stress also affects the growth and total fatty acid (TFA) contents of many important Brassica napus
genotypes. The plant biomass was decreased by 25 and 35% at high NaCl levels (100 and 150 mmol). The
overall decrease in biomass occurred by 55% at very high salt stress (200 mmol) in all canola genotypes. The
overall TFA value was decreased by 25% with increasing of salt stress from 0 to 200 mmol. It might be due to
membrane lipid degradation at high stress level. More interestingly, the poly-unsaturated fatty acids
decreased, while the mono-unsaturated fatty increased with the rise of salt stress. The oleic acid, palmatic
acid, linoleic acid and linolenic acid optimum concentrations were significantly disturbed by saline condition
(Bybordi et al., 2010). The increase level of degradation of important secondary metabolites (glucosinolates)
occur with the increase level of salt stress, due to membrane damage/high relative electrolyte leakage. The
high glucosinolates content was observed in Brassica oleracea L. var. italica after NaCl (40 and 80 mM) stress
for two weeks. The same trends were also recorded for B. rapa after subjecting NaCl levels (20, 40 and 60
mM) for five days (Lopez-Berenguer et al., 2008). These abiotic stresses may change the defense mechanism
of many important Brassica rapa germplasm (Steinbrenner et al., 2012). Salt stress affected the growth and
other important enzymatic activity of three important canola genotypes (Consul, Zarfam and Okapi). The
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growth decreased by several folds but the rate of Catalase (CAT) and Peroxidase (POD) increased many folds
with the increase of salt concentration from 0 to 120 mmol. The cultivar Opaki showed more salt tolerance
and maximum enzymatic activities; CAT (14.2 mgH2O2/ (63.4 mgH2O2/ as
compared to other two cultivars at 120 mmol NaCl (Farhoudi et al., 2015).
Salts stress severely affects different plant species at early germination and seedling growth stages by
disturbing their various agro-morphological and physiological processes (Su et al., 2013). Torabi & Ardestani
(2013) reported that salinity and drought stress affected the morpho-biochemical processes of important
canola genotype Opaki at germination stages. The seeds were germinated at 0, -0.1, -0.2, -0.3, -0.4, -0.6 and -
0.8 MPa NaCl and PEG-6000 concentrations. The maximum germination frequency (72%) was obtained at
controlled condition (0 MPa) and it decreased up to 26.1% at -0.8MPa for NaCl and PEG. The 50% maximum
germination value was estimated for 50.4 h at 0 MPa and increased to 62.5 and 123.7 h at -0.8 MPa
concentrations. Salinity causes reduction in average yield, oil contents and other growth performance of
many important Brassica species. It has adverse effect on plant morphology and other morpho-physiological
processes (Su et al., 2013; Jan et al., 2016).
Impact of heat stress on morpho-physiological properties of Brassica species
High temperature stress disturbs normal plant growth and development, especially at the early stages of
plant growth, which is one of the major problems in many cultivated areas of the world. The high heat stress
retards the normal agronomical, morphological, biochemical and physiological processes of many different
plant species and causes severe yield loss. It also affects many Brassica species including important canola
oilseed crop at early growth stage. The increase in levels of ascorbate peroxidase and gene expression in
canola hypocotyl occurs at high temperature. However, ascorbate peroxidase levels increased for a short
period upon high temperature stress. The up-regulation of these proteins play key role in energy and
metabolic processes and can help to provide maximum nutrients to early seedling at high temperature
(Ismaili et al., 2015). The optimum temperature for Brassica napus germination is 28 °C and any temperature
above this level retard its growth and development (Kaya et al., 2006). The effect of low to high temperature
gradient on plants generally depends on some important factors like anti-oxidant enzyme concentrations,
plant species/ cultivar used, type of organs, time period of exposure, magnitude of stress and growth stages
(Lu et al., 2008; Zhang et al., 2015). Similarly, the proline content increases with rise of heat stress. Proline
protects the proper protein structure from denaturing, stabilizes the cell membrane by interacting with
phospolipid bilayer and maintains the osmotic pressure between cytoplasm and environment (Claussen,
2005). On the other hand, the decrease in chlorophyll content was recorded at unfavorable temperature
(Gupta et al., 2013; Shah et al., 2015).
Temperature above 27 °C leads to floral sterility and yield loss of many economically important Brassica
napus cultivars. The high heat stress at vegetative growth stage leads to low flower number in all three
important Brassica species (B. rapa, B. juncea and B. napus). The yield significantly increased with the
increase of flower number. The loss of yield was due to reduced seed size per flower. Therefore, heat
tolerance genotypes are important to achieve maximum flower numbers and healthy seed size (Morrison &
Stewart, 2002). The B. carinata shows poor germination and early seedling growth at high heat stress.
Therefore, proper inter/intra-specific hybridization methods are important to develop new heat tolerant
Brassica species. New alien genes introgression can be used for the improvement of many important Brassica
species (Deol et al., 2003).
The flower and grain filling stage are more sensitive for temperature stress. It affects pollen viability, grain
development, anthesis time and fertilization process. The high thermal stress at terminal growth stage
affected normal photosynthesis process, transpiration rate, stomatal conductance, mean productivity and
geometric mean productivity, and important yield characters of 43 important rapeseed germplasm. A 20%
reduction in plant yield was recorded in many genotypes. The rapeseed mustard genotypes, BPR-549-9, BPR-
540-6 and BPR-349-9 showed more heat tolerance at terminal growth stage and gave better yield and other
morpho-physiological response than that of other accessions (Singh et al., 2014). The elevated level of
temperature increased the transpiration rate and stomatal conductance, and decreased the water use
efficiency and chlorophyll a content of Chinese cabbage (Brassica campestris subsp. napus var. pekinensis cv.
Detong) (Oh et al., 2014).
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Effect of frost stress on physiological properties of Brassica species
The frost stress is one of the key environmental extremes that affects the yield and other agronomic
important characters of many crop plant species (Singh et al., 2008; Shah et al., 2016). The canola crop is very
sensitive to frost stress especially at reproductive stages. The spring and winter temperature affect some of
the important steps during the reproductive period like gametogenesis, pollination, fertilization and
embryogenesiss (Angadi et al., 2000). The low temperature leads to few mature seeds formation due to poor
pollen formation (Jinling, 1997). Frost stress at early seedling stages causes death of the whole canola plant.
The damage of frost stress mainly depends on many important factors such as duration and extent of cold
stress, different plant growth stages and moisture content. The seedling growth is significantly affected by
high frost stress (−16 °C). The frost stress leads to wilting of leaves, bleaching, or in extreme cases can cause
plant death. A significant level of difference in growth was found among spring, hybrid and winter types to
cold stress. However, the response of hybrid and winter types remained the same (Fiebelkorn and Rahman,
2016). The wilting symptoms can cause loss of maximum water from cells. The blackened cotyledons and/or
leaves of canola genotypes serve as indicator to frost damage. The canola is more sensitive at cotyledons
stage than at three- to four-leaf stage. The slow growing seedling shows less susceptibility than that of rapid
growing seeding canola genotypes (Sovero, 1993).
Effect of drought stress on morpho-physiological characters of Brassica species
Drought is one of the most drastic abiotic stresses that damages agricultural crops affecting its development,
growth and production (Micheletto et al., 2007). Drought stress in plants may result some physiological
disorders such as reduction in photosynthesis and transpiration (Sarker et al., 2005). The drought decreases
the average production rate of different crop species (Robertson & Holland, 2004). Plants react to water
stress through a number of developmental, functional and biochemical changes. The tolerant canola
genotypes have more ability for adapting themselves under drought condition. The genetic diversity of
cultivated Brassica napus relatives provides valuable genes for improving this tolerance (Hosseini & Hassibi,
Nasri et al. (2008) studied drought stress that caused a significant reduction in the number of seeds per
siliqua, number of siliquae per plant, 1000-seed weight, seed yield, seed oil content, and oil yield of five
rapeseed cultivars. Sinaki et al. (2007) observed that low water stress at flowering stage decreased seed
yield, the biological yield, and the number of siliquae per plant of important rapeseed cultivars. Stroeher et al.
(1995) reported that phenology of rapeseed affected seed quality characteristics such as protein and oil
percentage and the quantity of glucosinolates under water stress condition. The main qualitative properties
of rapeseed plants strongly affected by water deficit are oil and protein contents (Istanbulluoglu et al., 2010).
Tesfamariam et al. (2010) found that the seed oil content of rapeseed plants was low due to water deficit at
flower budding stage. Richards & Thurling (1978) observed variation in response to drought stress between
and within species such as B. rapa and B. napus. They found that seed production and its components in
different cultivars of B. rapa and, B. napus are significantly influenced by low water stress. Variation in
drought patience cultivars or species has frequently attributed to differences in their time of ripening.
Thurling (1974) suggested that B. napus may be more resistant to drought stress than that of B. rapa since it
flowers later and stores less of its dry matter after flowering. Drought stress negatively affected many
biological processes in plants including the reduction in photosynthesis, accumulation of dry matter, stomatal
opening, and protein synthesis (Larcher, 2003; Ohashi et al., 2006). Drought causes disorganization of
thylakoid membranes resulting in reduction in chlorophyll contents and the pigments (Ashraf & Harris,
Journal of Rural Development and Agriculture (2017) 2(1): 1-10
Development of transgenic abiotic stress tolerant Brassica species
In nature, plants produced tolerance to both types of biotic and abiotic stresses but it is a very slow process
and some time these extreme stresses affect plants negatively. The transgenic plants expressing transgene
show more abiotic stress tolerance as compared to non-transgenic plants (Shinwari et al., 1998; Kasuga et al.,
1999; Maqbool et al., 2002; Ali et al., 2016). Transgenic plants against biotic and abiotic stress can be
produced through several gene transfer approaches using Agrobacterium-mediated transfer; this will
enhance tolerance against drought, salinity and low temperature in Arabidopsis thaliana (Kasuga et al., 1999).
Agarwal et al. (2006) described that with recent advances in molecular biology have shown that several genes
are induced under abiotic stress condition. These genes have been isolated, characterized and transformed to
plants under the presence of specific induced or constitutive promoters. The resulted transgenic plants
showed tolerance to these extreme environmental conditions and played important role in the improvement
of sustainable agriculture. Many efficient, quick, direct and indirect transformation protocols have been
developed to wide range of plant species (Kumar et al., 2014; Shah et al., 2015; Jan et al., 2016). Various
transgenic Brassica species has been produced against these environmental extreme that shows tolerance as
compared to non-transgenic plant. The detailed information of these transgenic Brassica species against
abiotic stresses is shown in Table 1.
Table 1 Transgenic Brassica species developed against abiotic stress through genetic modification
Transgenic Plant
Brassica napus
Brassica napus
Brassica juncea
Brassica juncea cv. Varuna
Differentially expressed
genes (DEGs)
Glyoxalase I
Salt and Osmotic stress
Drought and salt stress
Drought and salt stress
Luo et al. (2017)
Wang et al. (2017)
Rajwanshi et al. (2016)
Kumar et al. (2015)
Brassica napus
Brassica napus Var. Wester
Drought and heat stress
Salt stress
Sahni et al. (2016)
Qamarunnisa (2015)
Brassica oleracea var.
Salt stress
Metwali et al. (2012)
Brassica napus
Vacuolar Na+/H+
Salt stress
Wang et al. (2004)
Brassica napus
Vacuolar Na+/H+
Salt stress
Zhang et al. (2001)
Brassica napus
Frost stress
Jaglo et al. (2001)
Brassica napus
Frost stress
Savitch et al. (2005)
Brassica napus
Salt stress
Huang et al. (2000)
B. juncea
Salt stress
Prasad et al. (2000)
B. oleracea
Salt stress
Bhattacharya et al.
B. campestris
Drought and salt stress
Park et al. (2005)
The drought, salt, frost and high temperature stresses significantly affect the morpho-physiological processes
of some important Brassica species. Development and identification of abiotic stress tolerant cultivars are
important economic goals for our globe. The morphological and agronomical study of Brassica species
performing under environmental extremes could lead the research and development of new stress-tolerant
cultivars. The genetic engineering approaches play a key role for the development of improved transgenic
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Brassica species against wide range of abiotic stresses. The present study provided updated information
about the toxic effects of abiotic stress on important Brassica species, detailed information of abiotic stress
tolerant and non-tolerant Brassica species/genotypes and transgenic approaches against these stresses.
Author Contribution Statement Sohail Ahmad Jan, Nazma Bibi, Zabta Khan Shinwari, Sana Ullah and Abdul Qadir
drafted the manuscript. Nadar Khan and Malik Ashiq Rabbani conceived the review, retrieved literature and also helped
to draft the manuscript.
Conflict of Interest The authors declare that there is no conflict of interests regarding the publication of this article.
Acknowledgements The authors greatly acknowledge Mr. Nazir Ahmad, PhD student for their valuable suggestions in
the preparation of this review article.
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