Mechanical stimulation in wheat triggers age- and dose-dependent alterations in growth, development and grain characteristics

Rebecca Hindhaugh, Iain Donnison, Maurice Bosch

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3 Citations (SciVal)
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Background and Aims
Wheat crops are exposed to a range of mechanical stimulations in their natural environment, yet we know very little about their response to such conditions. The aim of this study was to better understand the effect of mechanical stimulation on wheat growth and development, stem mechanical properties and grain measures. We focused on the following questions: (1) Does plant age affect the response to mechanical stimulation? (2) Is there a minimum threshold for the perception of mechanical stimuli? (3) Is the effect of manual brushing different to natural wind stimulation?

For age– and dose–response experiments, wheat plants were grown under controlled glasshouse conditions with brushing treatments applied using a purpose-built rig. The results of the controlled experiments are compared with those from an outside experiment where wheat plants were exposed to natural wind, with or without additional brushing. Detailed phenotypic measurements were conducted and treatment effects on grain characteristics were determined using micro-computed tomography imaging.

Key Results
Two-week-old wheat plants were particularly sensitive to mechanical stimulation by controlled brushing treatments. Amongst others, plants exhibited a large reduction in height and grain yield, and an increase in tillers, above-ground biomass and stiffness of stem segments. Plants responded significantly to doses as small as one daily brushstroke. Outdoor experiments by and large confirmed results from controlled environment experiments.

The morphological and developmental response to mechanical brushing treatment, in relation to vegetative above-ground biomass and grain yield, is dependent on plant age as well as the dose of the treatments. This study shows that mechanical stimulation of wheat impacts on a multitude of agriculturally relevant traits and provides a much needed advancement of our understanding of wheat thigmomorphogenesis and the potential applications of mechanical conditioning to control relevant traits.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbermcab070
Pages (from-to)589-603
Number of pages15
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number5
Early online date06 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 08 Oct 2021


  • Brushing
  • Grain traits
  • Grain yield
  • Growth and development
  • Mechanical stimulation
  • Mechanical stress
  • Plant morphology
  • Thigmomorphogenesis
  • Touch response
  • Wheat
  • Wind
  • X-ray micro-computed tomography


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