Seeds use environmental cues to sense the seasons and their surroundings to initiate the life cycle of the plant. The dormancy cycling underlying this process is extensively described, but the molecular mechanism is largely unknown. To address this we selected a range of representative genes from published array experiments in the laboratory, and investigated their expression patterns in seeds of Arabidopsis ecotypes with contrasting life cycles over an annual dormancy cycle in the field. We show how mechanisms identified in the laboratory are coordinated in response to the soil environment to determine the dormancy cycles that result in winter and summer annual phenotypes. Our results are consistent with a seed-specific response to seasonal temperature patterns (temporal sensing) involving the gene DELAY OF GERMINATION 1 (DOG1) that indicates the correct season, and concurrent temporally driven co-opted mechanisms that sense spatial signals, i.e. nitrate, via CBL-INTERACTING PROTEIN KINASE 23 (CIPK23) phosphorylation of the NITRATE TRANSPORTER 1 (NRT1.1), and light, via PHYTOCHROME A (PHYA). In both ecotypes studied, when all three genes have low expression there is enhanced GIBBERELLIN 3 BETA-HYDROXYLASE 1 (GA3ox1) expression, exhumed seeds have the potential to germinate in the laboratory, and the initiation of seedling emergence occurs following soil disturbance (exposure to light) in the field. Unlike DOG1, the expression of MOTHER of FLOWERING TIME (MFT) has an opposite thermal response in seeds of the two ecotypes, indicating a role in determining their different dormancy cycling phenotypes.
The transition from dormancy to germination in seeds is a key physiological process during the lifecycle of plants. Abscisic acid (ABA) is the sole plant hormone known to maintain seed dormancy; it acts through a gene expression network involving the transcription factor ABSCISIC ACID INSENSITIVE 3 (ABI3). However, whether other phytohormone pathways function in the maintenance of seed dormancy in response to environmental and internal signals remains an important question. Here, we show that the plant growth hormone auxin, which acts as a versatile trigger in many developmental processes, also plays a critical role in seed dormancy in Arabidopsis. We show that disruptions in auxin signaling in MIR160-overexpressing plants, auxin receptor mutants, or auxin biosynthesis mutants dramatically release seed dormancy, whereas increases in auxin signaling or biosynthesis greatly enhance seed dormancy. Auxin action in seed dormancy requires the ABA signaling pathway (and vice versa), indicating that the roles of auxin and ABA in seed dormancy are interdependent. Furthermore, we show that auxin acts upstream of the major regulator of seed dormancy, ABI3, by recruiting the auxin response factors AUXIN RESPONSE FACTOR 10 and AUXIN RESPONSE FACTOR 16 to control the expression of ABI3 during seed germination. Our study, thus, uncovers a previously unrecognized regulatory factor of seed dormancy and a coordinating network of auxin and ABA signaling in this important process.
Freshly matured seeds exhibit primary dormancy, which prevents germination until environmental conditions are favorable. The establishment of dormancy occurs during seed development and involves both genetic and environmental factors that impact on the ratio of two antagonistic phytohormones: abscisic acid (ABA), which promotes dormancy, and gibberellic acid, which promotes germination. Although our understanding of dormancy breakage in mature seeds is well advanced, relatively little is known about the mechanisms involved in establishing dormancy during seed maturation. We previously showed that the SPATULA (SPT) transcription factor plays a key role in regulating seed germination. Here we investigate its role during seed development and find that, surprisingly, it has opposite roles in setting dormancy in Landsberg erecta and Columbia Arabidopsis ecotypes. We also find that SPT regulates expression of five transcription factor encoding genes: ABA-INSENSITIVE4 (ABI4) and ABI5, which mediate ABA signaling; REPRESSOR-OF-GA (RGA) and RGA-LIKE3 involved in gibberellic acid signaling; and MOTHER-OF-FT-AND-TFL1 (MFT) that we show here promotes Arabidopsis seed dormancy. Although ABI4, RGA, and MFT are repressed by SPT, ABI5 and RGL3 are induced. Furthermore, we show that RGA, MFT, and ABI5 are direct targets of SPT in vivo. We present a model in which SPT drives two antagonistic “dormancy-repressing” and “dormancy-promoting” routes that operate simultaneously in freshly matured seeds. Each of these routes has different impacts and this in turn explains the opposite effect of SPT on seed dormancy of the two ecotypes analyzed here.
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