What is the Difference Between Ethylene and Abscisic Acid

The main difference between ethylene and abscisic acid is that ethylene generally promotes seed germination, while abscisic acid inhibits seed germination and induces seed dormancy.

Ethylene and abscisic acid (ABA) are two important plant hormones. Both play distinct roles in regulating various aspects of plant growth, development, and responses to environmental stimuli. 

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Ethylene
      – Definition, Features, Role
2. What is Abscisic Acid
      – Definition, Features, Role
3. Similarities Between Ethylene and Abscisic Acid
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Ethylene and Abscisic Acid
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Ethylene and Abscisic Acid
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Ethylene, Abscisic Acid

Difference Between Ethylene and Abscisic Acid - Comparison Summary

What is Ethylene

Ethylene is a hydrocarbon belonging to the alkene group. Its molecular structure consists of two carbon atoms double-bonded to each other (C=C) and two hydrogen atoms attached to each carbon. This unsaturated hydrocarbon is a colorless, odorless gas at room temperature and pressure, making it challenging to detect without specialized instrumentation.

Ethylene functions as a plant hormone, a class of signaling molecules that regulate various aspects of plant growth and development. Unlike some other plant hormones that are transported in a specific direction, ethylene is unique in its ability to diffuse through cell membranes, allowing it to act locally within tissues.

Compare Ethylene and Abscisic Acid

Figure 1. Ethylene (1. Ethylene 2. Plasma Membrane 3. Receptor: ETR/ERS/EIN4, RTE1, CTR1 4. Endoplasmic Reticulum 5. CTR1 6. EIN2 7. EIN3 8. DNA 9. mRNA)

Role of Ethylene

One of the most well-known roles of ethylene in plants is its involvement in fruit ripening. As fruits mature, they produce ethylene in increasing amounts, initiating a series of physiological changes. Ethylene promotes the conversion of starches to sugars, the softening of fruit tissues, and the production of aroma compounds. Additionally, ethylene can act as an autocatalyst; meaning it induces its production, further accelerating the ripening process.

Ethylene is also a key player in the senescence, or aging, of leaves and flowers. As a plant hormone, it signals the plant tissues to undergo controlled degradation and recycling of cellular components. This process is crucial for resource allocation and nutrient mobilization within the plant.

Ethylene is involved in the abscission process, where plants shed leaves, flowers, or fruits. It triggers the activation of enzymes that weaken cell walls, facilitating the detachment of these structures. This mechanism is essential for the efficient shedding of older leaves and the dispersal of seeds. In addition to its roles in growth and development, ethylene serves as a stress hormone, orchestrating plant responses to various environmental challenges. When plants encounter stressors such as mechanical damage, flooding, or pathogen attack, ethylene production is often induced to coordinate adaptive responses. For instance, it can stimulate the synthesis of secondary metabolites with defensive properties.

What is Abscisic Acid

Abscisic acid is a sesquiterpene, a class of terpenoids derived from three isoprene units. Its chemical structure consists of a 15-carbon backbone, with a carboxyl group at one end and a methyl group at the other. Abscisic acid is synthesized through the isoprenoid pathway in plastids, where the precursor carotenoids, such as zeaxanthin, undergo oxidative cleavage to form ABA. Various environmental and developmental cues, including water availability, light conditions, and temperature influence this biosynthetic process.

Ethylene vs Abscisic Acid

Figure 2: Abscisic Acid

Abscisic acid (ABA) is crucial in seed development, preventing premature germination by accumulating during maturation. As seeds mature, rising ABA levels promote storage compound synthesis and inhibit germination enzymes. ABA dynamically regulates seed germination in response to favorable conditions. It also plays a pivotal role in plant responses to environmental stresses like drought, salinity, and extreme temperatures. ABA induces stomatal closure during water deficit, promotes root growth for water absorption, and regulates ion transport under salinity stress. In extreme temperatures, ABA acts as a signaling molecule, enhancing thermotolerance. ABA’s involvement in abscission ensures organ detachment during stress or senescence. Practical applications include using ABA to manage crop water use efficiency and enhance drought tolerance, with ongoing research exploring its potential role in optimizing crop yield under changing climate conditions.

Similarities Between Ethylene and Abscisic Acid

  • Ethylene and ABA are involved in the plant’s response to various environmental stresses.
  • Both ethylene and ABA are associated with the processes of senescence (aging) and abscission (shedding of plant organs).

Difference Between Ethylene and Abscisic Acid


Ethylene is a plant hormone that promotes fruit ripening, senescence, and abscission and responds to various stresses, while abscisic acid (ABA) is a plant hormone involved in seed dormancy, inhibition of germination, and responses to environmental stresses.


While ethylene generally promotes seed germination, ABA inhibits seed germination and induces seed dormancy.

Role in Fruit Development

Ethylene plays a central role in fruit ripening, triggering the conversion of starches to sugars and softening fruit tissues. While ABA is involved in fruit development, it is not typically associated with the ripening process in the same way as ethylene.

Stomatal Closure

Ethylene does not have a direct role in regulating stomatal closure, while ABA is a key regulator of stomatal closure, helping plants conserve water by reducing transpiration during periods of water scarcity.

FAQ: Ethylene and Abscisic Acid

What is the relationship between ABA and ethylene?

The relationship between ABA and ethylene involves their coordination in regulating different physiological processes in plants. ABA is primarily associated with stress responses and seed-related functions, while ethylene plays a role in fruit ripening, senescence, and abscission.

Why does abscisic acid inhibit growth?

Abscisic acid inhibits growth primarily by inducing dormancy in seeds and inhibiting germination. Additionally, ABA regulates stomatal closure, reducing water loss from plants and contributing to growth inhibition during periods of water deficit.

What is the significance of ethylene and abscisic acid? 

Ethylene and abscisic acid are significant plant hormones, with ethylene playing a role in fruit ripening and stress responses, while abscisic acid regulates seed dormancy, germination, and responses to environmental stresses, contributing to overall plant growth and adaptation.


The main difference between ethylene and abscisic acid lies in their functions: ethylene is involved in fruit ripening and stress responses, while abscisic acid regulates seed-related processes and responses to environmental stresses in plants.


1. “Ethylene.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
2. “Growth Inhibitors.” Encyclopedia Britannica.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Ethylene Signal Transduction” By Kbousfield – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Abscisic acid” By Charlesy (talk · contribs) – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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