Drought is a serious threat worldwide to soybean and maize production. This study was conducted to discern the impact of salvianolic acid treatment on osmotic-stressed soybean (Glycine max L.) and maize (Zea mays L.) seedlings from the perspective of physiochemical and molecular reactions. Examination of varied salvianolic acid concentrations (0, 0.1, 1, 5, 10, and 25 μM) on soybean and maize seedling growth confirmed that the 0.1 and 1 μM concentrations, respectively, showed an improvement in agronomic traits. Likewise, the investigation ascertained how salvianolic acid application could retrieve osmotic-stressed plants. Soybean and maize seedlings were irrigated with water or 25% PEG for 8 days. The results indicated that salvianolic acid application promoted the survival of the 39-day-old osmotic-stressed soybean and maize plants. The salvianolic acid-treated plants retained high photosynthetic pigments, protein, amino acid, fatty acid, sugar, and antioxidant contents, and demonstrated low hydrogen peroxide and lipid contents under osmotic stress conditions. Gene transcription pattern certified that salvianolic acid application led to an increased expression of GmGOGAT, GmUBC2, ZmpsbA, ZmNAGK, ZmVPP1, and ZmSCE1d genes, and a diminished expression of GmMIPS2, GmSOG1, GmACS, GmCKX, ZmPIS, and ZmNAC48 genes. Together, our results indicate the utility of salvianolic acid to enhance the osmotic endurance of soybean and maize plants.
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