Drought influences cereal crop yield and quality. However, little is known about changes in the structural and functional properties of wheat starch under soil drought conditions. In this study, two wheat cultivars were subjected to well-watered (WW), moderate soil-drought (MD), and severe soil-drought (SD) from 7 tillers in the main stem to maturity. The structural and functional properties of the resultant endosperm starch were investigated. In comparison with WW soil, the MD increased starch accumulation in grains, the proportion of large starch granules, amylose and amylopectin long branch chain contents, and average amylopectin branch chain length, which were accompanied by the increase in activities of granule bound starch synthase and soluble starch synthase. MD treated-starch had a lower gelatinization enthalpy, and swelling power, but a higher gelatinization temperature, retrogradation enthalpy, and retrogradation percentage when compared to WW conditions. The MD also increased starch resistance to acid hydrolysis, amylase hydrolysis, and in vitro digestion. The SD had the opposite effects to the MD in all cases. The results suggest that soil drought more severely affects amylose synthesis than amylopectin synthesis in wheat grains, and moderate soil-drought improves molecular structure and functional properties of the starch.
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