Lentil (Lens culinaris Medik.) is an important grain legume crop, mostly grown in semi-arid environments and often faces intermittent drought spells during different growth stages, which severely hamper its yield. This study, comprising of three separate experiments, was conducted to evaluate the potential of seed priming with CaCl2 in improving drought tolerance in lentil. In the first experiment, lentil seeds were hydroprimed (water) or osmoprimed with 0.5 and 1% CaCl2; while non-primed seeds were taken as control. In the second and third experiments, lentil seeds were subjected to pre-optimized osmopriming (1% CaCl2) and hydropriming followed by surface drying or re-drying of primed seeds to original weight. The first two experiments were conducted in petri plates, while, in experiment 3, seeds were planted in plastic pots containing peat moss, maintained at 75% water holding capacity (WHC; well-watered) or 50% WHC (water deficit). Hydropriming and osmopriming improved seed germination, seedling growth, biomass production, chlorophyll intensity, sugar accumulation and reduced the oxidative stress in lentil under water deficit. However, osmopriming (1% CaCl2) was more effective than the hydropriming in improving the lentil growth, biomass production, Ca accumulation and sugar metabolism under both well-watered and water deficit conditions. Seed surface drying, after priming, was more beneficial in improving the lentil performance, under both well-watered and water deficit conditions, than re-drying to original weight. Osmopriming (1% CaCl2) increased the seeding dry weight (67%), SPAD value (140%), leaf Ca concentration (56%), α-amylase activity (55%), total soluble sugars (48%) and reduced malanodialdehyde content (35.9%) and total antioxidant activity (29.2%) than un-primed seeds under water deficit. In conclusion, osmopriming improved the lentil performance under optimal and water deficit conditions through early and synchronized emergence, better sugar and Ca accumulation which reduced the oxidative damage and resulted in better seedling growth and biomass production.
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