A pinboard by
Maria-Cecilia Costa

Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Cape Town


The key to increase seed life span in seed banks is in the genome of Castanospermum australe

Seeds of most flowering plants are shed in the dry state and can be stored for prolonged periods of time, what enables their survival in soil seed banks and makes them suitable for long term conservation in seed bank facilities. However, some flowering plant species (<8%) produce seeds that do not tolerate drying (are desiccation sensitive) and are poorly storable in the soil and in seed bank facilities. These seeds are at high-risk of death when prolonged dry spells occur between shedding and the return of favorable conditions for germination. Moreover, the survival of these species might be threatened upon the occurrence of a disaster if populations cannot be maintained in seed bank facilities. Desiccation sensitive seeded species are mostly found in the humid tropics where they would not need to survive drying and environmental conditions favor very rapid germination. One of such species is Castanospermum australe, also known as the Moreton Bay Chestnut. It is a tropical tree, native to the east coast of Australia and to the Pacific islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Papua New Guinea. Several studies have attempted to increase the life span of these seeds in seed bank facilities, but the lack of genomic sequence information has prevented definitive interpretation of what is required for tolerance of extreme water loss and to design strategies to improve it in these seeds. We have sequenced and analyzed the whole genome of C. australe along with a comprehensive study of the changes in gene expression occurring during seed development. At the end of development, C. australe seeds start to germinate unlike desiccation tolerant seeds, that enter a quiescence state at the end of development and before germination. Our results indicate that the reason for this is the complete loss of certain desiccation tolerance-related genes and failure to activate others. Moreover, evolution within humid tropical environments might have favored the loss, repression and mutation in genes responsible for acquisition of desiccation tolerance during seed development. Our results contribute to the understanding of the evolution of desiccation sensitivity and to the design of strategies to improve tolerance to water loss in sensitive seeds for conservation purposes.


LEA polypeptide profiling of recalcitrant and orthodox legume seeds reveals ABI3-regulated LEA protein abundance linked to desiccation tolerance.

Abstract: In contrast to orthodox seeds that acquire desiccation tolerance during maturation, recalcitrant seeds are unable to survive drying. These desiccation-sensitive seeds constitute an interesting model for comparative analysis with phylogenetically close species that are desiccation tolerant. Considering the importance of LEA (late embryogenesis abundant) proteins as protective molecules both in drought and in desiccation tolerance, the heat-stable proteome was characterized in cotyledons of the legume Castanospermum australe and it was compared with that of the orthodox model legume Medicago truncatula. RNA sequencing identified transcripts of 16 homologues out of 17 LEA genes for which polypeptides are detected in M. truncatula seeds. It is shown that for 12 LEA genes, polypeptides were either absent or strongly reduced in C. australe cotyledons compared with M. truncatula seeds. Instead, osmotically responsive, non-seed-specific dehydrins accumulated to high levels in the recalcitrant cotyledons compared with orthodox seeds. Next, M. truncatula mutants of the abscisic acid insensitive3 (ABI3) gene were characterized. Mature Mtabi3 seeds were found to be desiccation sensitive when dried below a critical water content of 0.4 g H2O g DW(-1). Characterization of the LEA proteome of the Mtabi3 seeds revealed a subset of LEA proteins with severely reduced abundance that were also found to be reduced or absent in C. australe cotyledons. Transcripts of these genes were indeed shown to be ABI3 responsive. The results highlight those LEA proteins that are critical to desiccation tolerance and suggest that comparable regulatory pathways responsible for their accumulation are missing in both desiccation-sensitive genotypes, revealing new insights into the mechanistic basis of the recalcitrant trait in seeds.

Pub.: 18 Sep '13, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

Ecological correlates of seed desiccation tolerance in tropical African dryland trees.

Abstract: In the tropics, species with recalcitrant or desiccation-sensitive, Type III seeds are largely restricted to regions with comparatively high rainfall, because desiccation-induced seed death will be minimal in these environments. However, species with recalcitrant seeds do occur in drylands, although little is known about ecological adaptations to minimize seed death in these environments. Here we present data for the seed desiccation tolerance of 10 African dryland species and examine the relationships between seed size, rainfall at the time of seed shed, and desiccation tolerance for these and a further 70 species from the scientific literature. The combined data set encompasses species from 33 families. Three species (Syzygium cumini, Trichilia emetica, and Vitellaria paradoxa) had desiccation-sensitive seeds, and the remaining seven species investigated were desiccation-tolerant. The desiccation-sensitive species had large (>0.5 g) seeds, germinated rapidly, and had comparatively small investments in seed physical defenses. Furthermore, seed was shed in months of high rainfall (>60 mm). In comparison, for species with desiccation-tolerant seeds, seed mass varied across five orders of magnitude, and seed was shed in wet and dry months. Although infrequent in dryland environments (approximately 11% of the species examined here), species with desiccation-sensitive seeds do occur; large size, rapid germination, and the timing of dispersal all reduce the likelihood of seed drying. Furthermore, desiccation-sensitivity may be advantageous for large-seeded species by increasing the efficiency of resource use in seed provisioning.

Pub.: 01 Jun '04, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

From Avicennia to Zizania: seed recalcitrance in perspective.

Abstract: Considered only in terms of tolerance of, or sensitivity to, desiccation (which is an oversimplification), orthodox seeds are those which tolerate dehydration and are storable in this condition, while highly recalcitrant seeds are damaged by loss of only a small proportion of water and are unstorable for practical purposes. Between these extremes, however, there may be a gradation of the responses to dehydration--and also to other factors--suggesting perhaps that seed behaviour might be best considered as constituting a continuum subtended by extreme orthodoxy and the highest degree of recalcitrance. As the characteristics of seeds of an increasing number of species are elucidated, non-orthodox seed behaviour is emerging as considerably more commonplace--and its basis far more complex--than previously suspected.Whatever the post-harvest responses of seeds of individual species may be, they are the outcome of the properties of pre-shedding development, and a full understanding of the subtleties of various degrees of non-orthodox behaviour must await the identification of, and interaction among, all the factors conferring extreme orthodoxy. Appreciation of the phenomenon of recalcitrance is confounded by intra- and interseasonal variability across species, as well as within individual species. However, recent evidence suggests that provenance is a pivotal factor in determining the degree of recalcitrant behaviour exhibited by seeds of individual species. Non-orthodox--and, in particular, recalcitrant--seed behaviour is not merely a matter of desiccation sensitivity: the primary basis is that the seeds are actively metabolic when they are shed, in contrast to orthodox types which are quiescent. This affects all aspects of the handling and storage of recalcitrant seeds. In the short to medium term, recalcitrant seeds should be stored in as hydrated a condition as when they are shed, and at the lowest temperature not diminishing vigour or viability. Such hydrated storage has attendant problems of fungal proliferation which, unless minimized, will inevitably and significantly affect seed quality. The life span of seeds in hydrated storage even under the best conditions is variable among species, but is curtailed (days to months), and various approaches attempting to extend non-orthodox seed longevity are discussed. Conservation of the genetic resources by means other than seed storage is then briefly considered, with detail on the potential for, and difficulties with, cryostorage highlighted.There appears to be little taxonomic relationship among species exhibiting the phenomenon of seed recalcitrance, suggesting that it is a derived trait, with tolerance having been lost a number of times. Although recalcitrant seededness is best represented in the mesic tropics, particularly among rainforest climax species, it does occur in cooler, drier and markedly seasonal habitats. The selective advantages of the trait are considered.

Pub.: 21 Aug '07, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

Implications of the lack of desiccation tolerance in recalcitrant seeds.

Abstract: A suite of interacting processes and mechanisms enables tolerance of desiccation and storage (conservation) of orthodox seeds in the dry state. While this is a long-term option under optimized conditions, dry orthodox seeds are not immortal, with life spans having been characterized as short, intermediate and long. Factors facilitating desiccation tolerance are metabolic "switch-off" and intracellular dedifferentiation. Recalcitrant seeds lack these mechanisms, contributing significantly to their desiccation sensitivity. Consequently, recalcitrant seeds, which are shed at high water contents, can be stored only in the short-term, under conditions not allowing dehydration. The periods of such hydrated storage are constrained by germination that occurs without the need for extraneous water, and the proliferation of seed-associated fungi. Cryopreservation is viewed as the only option for long-term conservation of the germplasm of recalcitrant-seeded species. This is not easily achieved, as each of the necessary procedures imposes oxidative damage. Intact recalcitrant seeds cannot be cryopreserved, the common practice being to use excised embryos or embryonic axes as explants. Dehydration is a necessary procedure prior to exposure to cryogenic temperatures, but this is associated with metabolism-linked injury mediated by uncontrolled reactive oxygen species generation and failing anti-oxidant systems. While the extent to which this occurs can be curtailed by maximizing drying rate (flash drying) it cannot be completely obviated. Explant cooling for, and rewarming after, cryostorage must necessarily be rapid, to avoid ice crystallization. The ramifications of desiccation sensitivity are discussed, as are problems involved in cryostorage, particularly those accompanying dehydration and damage consequent upon ice crystallization. While desiccation sensitivity is a "fact" of seed recalcitrance, resolutions of the difficulties involved germplasm conservation are possible as discussed.

Pub.: 10 Dec '13, Pinned: 27 Jul '17