How do plants remember drought?
Recurrent spells of droughts are more common than a single drought, with intermittent moist recovery intervals. While the detrimental effects of the first drought on plant structure and physiology are unavoidable, if survived, plants can memorize the first drought to present a more robust response to the following droughts. This includes a partial stomatal opening in the watered recovery interval, higher levels of osmoprotectants and ABA, and attenuation of photosynthesis in the subsequent exposure. Short-term drought memory is regulated by ABA and other phytohormone signaling with transcriptional memory behavior in various genes. High levels of methylated histones are deposited at the drought-tolerance genes. During the recovery interval, the RNA polymerase is stalled to be activated by a pause-breaking factor in the subsequent drought. Drought leads to DNA demethylation near drought-response genes, with genetic control of the process. Progenies of the drought-exposed plants can better adapt to drought owing to the inheritance of particular methylation patterns. However, a prolonged watered recovery interval leads to loss of drought memory, mediated by certain demethylases and chromatin accessibility factors. Small RNAs act as critical regulators of drought memory by altering transcript levels of drought-responsive target genes. Further studies in the future will throw more light on the genetic control of drought memory and the interplay of genetic and epigenetic factors in its inheritance. Plants from extreme environments can give queues to understanding robust memory responses at the ecosystem level.