Seed dormancy and germination
Reproduction is a critical time in plant life history. Therefore, genes affecting seed dormancy and germination are among those under strongest selection in natural plant populations. Germination terminates seed dispersal and thus influences the location and timing of plant growth. After seed shedding, germination can be prevented by a property known as seed dormancy. In practise, seeds are rarely either dormant or non-dormant, but seeds whose dormancy-inducing pathways are activated to higher levels will germinate in an ever-narrower range of environments. Thus, measurements of dormancy must always be accompanied by analysis of environmental contexts in which phenotypes or behaviours are described. At its simplest, dormancy can be imposed by the formation of a simple physical barrier around the seed through which gas exchange and the passage of water are prevented. Seeds featuring this so-called ‘physical dormancy' often require either scarification or passage through an animal gut (replete with its associated digestive enzymes) to disrupt the barrier and permit germination. In other types of seeds with ‘morphological dormancy' the embryo remains under-developed at maturity and a dormant phase exists as the embryo continues its growth post-shedding, eventually breaking through the surrounding tissues. By far, the majority of seeds exhibit ‘physiological dormancy' — a quiescence program initiated by either the embryo or the surrounding endosperm tissues. Physiological dormancy uses germination-inhibiting hormones to prevent germination in the absence of the specific environmental triggers that promote germination. During and after germination, early seedling growth is supported by catabolism of stored reserves of protein, oil or starch accumulated during seed maturation. These reserves support cell expansion, chloroplast development and root growth until photoauxotrophic growth can be resumed.
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