Seed after-ripening is a discrete developmental pathway associated with specific gene networks in Arabidopsis

Esther Carrera*, Tara Holman*, Anne Medhurst, Daniela Dietrich, Steven Footitt, Frederica L. Theodoulou & Michael J. Holdsworth

After-ripening (AR) is a time and environment regulated process occurring in the dry seed, which determines the germination potential of seeds. Both metabolism and perception of the phytohormone abscisic acid (ABA) are important in the initiation and maintenance of dormancy. However, molecular mechanisms that regulate the capacity for dormancy or germination through AR are unknown. To understand the relationship between ABA and AR, we analysed genome expression in Arabidopsis thaliana mutants defective in seed ABA synthesis (aba1-1) or perception (abi1-1). Even though imbibed mutant seeds showed no dormancy, they exhibited changes in global gene expression resulting from dry AR that were comparable with changes occurring in wild-type (WT) seeds. Core gene sets were identified that were positively or negatively regulated by dry seed storage. Each set included a gene encoding repression or activation of ABA function (LPP2 and ABA1, respectively), thereby suggesting a mechanism through which dry AR may modulate subsequent germination potential in WT seeds. Application of exogenous ABA to after-ripened WT seeds did not reimpose characteristics of freshly harvested seeds on imbibed seed gene expression patterns. It was shown that secondary dormancy states reinstate AR status-specific gene expression patterns. A model is presented that separates the action of ABA in seed dormancy from AR and dry storage regulated gene expression. These results have major implications for the study of genetic mechanisms altered in seeds as a result of crop domestication into agriculture, and for seed behaviour during dormancy cycling in natural ecosystems.

The Plant Journal 53 (2), 214–224