Four Solanum tuberosum L. cultivars (Nicola, Pito, Puikula, Timo) and somatic hybrids between freezing tolerant S. commersonii and freezing sensitive S. tuberosum were evaluated for their tolerance to freezing and low temperature photoinhibition. Cellular freezing tolerance was studied using ion leakage tests and the sensitivity of the photosynthetic apparatus to freezing and high light intensity stress by measuring changes in chlorophyll fluorescence (FV/FM) and oxygen evolution. Exposure to high light intensities after freezing stress increased frost injury significantly in all genotypes studied. Compared with S. tuberosum cultivars, the hybrids were more tolerant both of freezing and intense light stresses. In field experiments the mechanism of frost injury varied according to the severity of night frosts. During night frosts in 1999, the temperature inside the potato canopy was significantly higher than at ground level, and did not fall below the lethal temperature for potato cultivars (from -2.5 to -3.0°C). As a result, frost injury developed slowly, indicating that damage occurred to the photosynthetic apparatus. However, as the temperature at ground level and inside the canopy fell below -4°C, cellular freezing occurred and the canopy was rapidly destroyed. This suggests that in the field visual frost damage can follow from freezing or non-freezing temperatures accompanied with high light intensity. Therefore, in an attempt to improve low temperature tolerance in potato, it is important to increase tolerance to both freezing and chilling stresses.
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