Topic 17.1 Embryonic Dormancy

Embryo Maturation Requires Specific Gene Expression

The Arabidopsis embryo enters dormancy after it has generated about 20,000 cells. Dormancy is brought about by the loss of water and a general shutting down of gene transcription and protein synthesis—not only in the embryo, but also throughout the seed. To adapt the cell to the special conditions of dormancy, specific gene expression is required. For example, the Abscisic Acid Insensitive3 (ABI3) and FUSCA3 genes are necessary for the initiation of dormancy and are sensitive to the hormone abscisic acid, which is the signaling molecule that initiates seed and embryo dormancy. ABI3 also controls the expression of genes encoding the storage proteins that are deposited in the cotyledons during the maturation phase of embryogenesis (see textbook Chapter 23).The LEAFY COTYLEDON1 (LEC1) gene also is active in late embryogenesis. Because lec1 mutants cannot survive desiccation and do not enter dormancy, the embryos die unless they are rescued through isolation before desiccation occurs. The rescued embryos will germinate in culture and produce fertile plants, which are like wild-type plants except that they lack the 7S storage protein and they have leaflike cotyledons with trichomes on their upper surface. The normal appearance and development of the mature lec1 mutants indicates that the LEC1 gene is required only during embryogenesis. Although the most obvious defects of the lec1 mutants are seen only in the maturation phase embryo, mRNA from LEC1 gene expression can be detected throughout embryogenesis. It has been proposed that LEC1 is a general repressor of vegetative development and its expression is necessary throughout embryogenesis (Lotan et al. 1998).

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