BACKGROUND: Salinity is a big threat to agriculture by limiting crop production. Nanopriming (seed priming with nanomaterials) is an emerged approach to improve plant stress tolerance; however, our knowledge about the underlying mechanisms is limited.
RESULTS: Herein, we used cerium oxide nanoparticles (nanoceria) to prime rapeseeds and investigated the possible mechanisms behind nanoceria improved rapeseed salt tolerance. We synthesized and characterized polyacrylic acid coated nanoceria (PNC, 8.5 ± 0.2 nm, -43.3 ± 6.3 mV) and monitored its distribution in different tissues of the seed during the imbibition period (1, 3, 8 h priming). Our results showed that compared with the no nanoparticle control, PNC nanopriming improved germination rate (12%) and biomass (41%) in rapeseeds (Brassica napus) under salt stress (200 mM NaCl). During the priming hours, PNC were located mostly in the seed coat, nevertheless the intensity of PNC in cotyledon and radicle was increased alongside with the increase of priming hours. During the priming hours, the amount of the absorbed water (52%, 14%, 12% increase at 1, 3, 8 h priming, respectively) and the activities of α-amylase were significantly higher (175%, 309%, 295% increase at 1, 3, 8 h priming, respectively) in PNC treatment than the control. PNC primed rapeseeds showed significantly lower content of MDA, H2O2, and •O2- in both shoot and root than the control under salt stress. Also, under salt stress, PNC nanopriming enabled significantly higher K+ retention (29%) and significantly lower Na+ accumulation (18.5%) and Na+/K+ ratio (37%) than the control.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggested that besides the more absorbed water and higher α-amylase activities, PNC nanopriming improves salt tolerance in rapeseeds through alleviating oxidative damage and maintaining Na+/K+ ratio. It adds more knowledge regarding the mechanisms underlying nanopriming improved plant salt tolerance.