How seeds recognise the seasons

December 16, 2014 by David Garner
How seeds recognise the seasons
Arabidopsis seeds

Scientists at the University of York have played a key role in new research into the way 'mother' plants use their memory of the seasons to teach their seeds the most advantageous time to germinate.

Researchers led by Professor Ian Graham, of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in York's Department of Biology, working with scientists at the University of Exeter, found that the senses temperature and forms a long term temperature memory.

Using Arabidopsis thaliana as a model plant, they found its temperature memories enable progeny seeds to determine the time of year and modify their germination rates to ensure their growth and development is coordinated with the seasons.

If the mother experiences warmer temperatures, it produces more of a protein called Flowering Locus T (FT) which represses production of tannins in the fruit, making seed coats thinner and more permeable. This means they germinate more quickly.

Conversely, if the mother plant experiences cooler temperatures before flowering, it produces less FT protein and more tannins. Seed coats will be thicker and less permeable and will germinate later. In this way, the mother plant can manipulate to be optimal for the time of year.

With climate change making suboptimal conditions more frequent, a better understanding how plants communicate with their seeds will help scientists optimise seed quality for crops and domestic use.

CNAP researchers measured the hormones in seeds which usually control germination but, in this case, they found that other signals coming from the mother plant were more important.

The research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Royal Society has implications for improving crop yields by helping scientists and growers to adapt how crops respond to changes in climate and temperature. It is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Professor Graham said: "This work demonstrates the importance of growing conditions throughout the lifecycle of the plant. In terms of crop plants, it highlights how adverse environmental conditions can have a negative impact on ."

Dr Steven Penfield, now of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, who led the research, said: "By understanding how the mother plant uses temperature information to influence the vigour of her seeds we can begin to develop strategies for breeding with more resilience to climate change."

The FT protein is known to influence when a plant flowers depending on the length of day. The research also showed that the influence of this protein on seed dormancy was entirely separate from its influence on flowering time.

Explore further: To germinate, or not to germinate, that is the question

More information: Maternal temperature history activates Flowering Locus T in fruits to control progeny dormancy according to time of year, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1412274111

Related Stories

Seed germination regulators for optimising harvests

December 10, 2014

The timing of seed germination is crucial for optimising harvests. Pre-harvest sprouting is prevented when seeds enter a dormant state, but a high level of dormancy has economic repercussions. Now, using RNA and sequence ...

Recommended for you

Mammal long thought extinct in Australia resurfaces

December 15, 2017

A crest-tailed mulgara, a small carnivorous marsupial known only from fossilised bone fragments and presumed extinct in NSW for more than century, has been discovered in Sturt National Park north-west of Tibooburra.

Finding a lethal parasite's vulnerabilities

December 15, 2017

An estimated 100 million people around the world are infected with Strongyloides stercoralis, a parasitic nematode, yet it's likely that many don't know it. The infection can persist for years, usually only causing mild symptoms. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.