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Globally, many low to medium yielding peanut fields have the potential for further yield improvement. Low phosphorus (P) limitation is one of the significant factors curtailing Arachis hypogaea productivity in many regions. In order to demonstrate the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) on peanuts growing under P deficiency, we used a pot-based experiment to examine the effects of exogenous GABA on alleviating P deficiency-induced physiological changes and growth inhibition in peanuts. The key physiological parameters examined were foliar gas exchange, photochemical efficiency, proton motive force, reactive oxygen species (ROS), and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthase activity of peanuts under cultivation with low P (LP, 0.5 mM P) and control conditions. During low P, the cyclic electron flow (CEF) maintained the high proton gradient (∆pH) induced by low ATP synthetic activity. Applying GABA during low P conditions stimulated CEF and reduced the concomitant ROS generation and thereby protecting the foliar photosystem II (PSII) from photoinhibition. Specifically, GABA enhanced the rate of electronic transmission of PSII (ETRII) by pausing the photoprotection mechanisms including non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) and ∆pH regulation. Thus, GABA was shown to be effective in restoring peanut growth when encountering P deficiency. Exogenous GABA alleviated two symptoms (increased root-shoot ratio and photoinhibition) of P-deficient peanuts. This is possibly the first report of using exogenous GABA to restore photosynthesis and growth under low P availability. Therefore, foliar applications of GABA could be a simple, safe and effective approach to overcome low yield imposed by limited P resources (low P in soils or P-fertilizers are unavailable) for sustainable peanut cultivation and especially in low to medium yielding fields.
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