Programmed plant cell death is a widespread phenomenon resulting in the formation of xylem vessels, dissected leaf forms, and aerenchyma. We demonstrate here that some characteristics of programmed cell death can also be observed during the cellular response to biotic and abiotic stress when plant tissue is ingested by grazing ruminants. Furthermore, the onset and progression of plant cell death processes may influence the proteolytic rate in the rumen. This is important because rapid proteolysis of plant proteins in ruminants is a major cause of the inefficient conversion of plant to animal protein resulting in the release of environmental N pollutants. Although rumen proteolysis is widely believed to be mediated by proteases from rumen microorganisms, proteolysis and cell death occurred concurrently in clover leaves incubated in vitro under rumenlike conditions (maintained anaerobically at 39 °C) but in the absence of a rumen microbial population. Under rumenlike conditions, both red and white clover cells showed progressive loss of DNA, but this was only associated with fragmentation in white clover. Cell death was indicated by increased ionic leakage and the appearance of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-nick-end-labelled nuclei. Foliar protein decreased to 50% of the initial values after 3 h incubation in white clover and after 4 h in red clover, while no decrease was observed in ambient (25 °C, aerobic) incubations. In white clover, decreased foliar protein coincided with an increased number of protease isoforms.
- Trifolium pratense, Trifolium repens, Proteolysis, Rumen, Cell death