A whole plant microculture (WPMC) screening system facilitated rapid, quantitative appraisal of salt stress effects on `Micro-Tom' miniature dwarf tomato. Axillary bud explants were micropropagated on a hormone-free control medium (conductivity = 3.3 dS m-1), gradually introduced to treatments with increasing NaCl or Na2SO4 concentrations via biweekly subculture to fresh media (7,6, 12.8, or 18 dS m-1), and monitored over a subsequent 5 week culture period. Non-intrusive video image analysis techniques were adapted to quantify morphometric (shoot growth rate, area, and length; root length and area) and photometric (ruler and tissue quality) plant responses. Shoot growth was only slightly inhibited at 7.6 and 12.8 dS m-1, but was severely stunted and distorted on high salt (18 dS m-1) media. Root growth inhibition (significantly shorter and thinner primary rants) was first evident at 12.8 dS m-1 after 3 weeks of treatment. At 18 dS m-1, conspicuous retardation of root growth relative to controls could be gauged after only one week. Shoot tip chlorosis was observed in the lowest salt-supplemented treatment after three to four weeks of culture, but overall shoot yellowing at the two highest conductivities was marked after only a few days. Chlorosis symptoms were not uniform within treatments. Cell osmotic concentration showed a linear increase with increasing medium salinity. The WPMC system expedited time course observations of stress symptom development, paralleled stress response trends observed in solution culture tests, and provided an excellent vehicle to investigate plant adaptation to saline conditions.
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