Seeds inherit memories from their mother

SEM germinating seed © Sylvain Loubery Univ Geneva

University of Geneva researchers demonstrate that maternal and environmental control of seed dormancy is regulated by novel epigenetic mechanisms.

Seeds remain in a dormant state – a temporary blockage of their germination – as long as environmental conditions are not ideal for germination. The depth of this sleep, which is influenced by various factors, is inherited from their mother, as researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, had previously shown. Today, they reveal in the journal eLife how this maternal imprint is transmitted through small fragments of so-called ‘interfering’ RNAs, which inactivate certain genes. The biologists also reveal that a similar mechanism enables to transmit another imprint, that of the temperatures present during the development of the seed. The lower this temperature was, the higher the seed’s dormancy level will be. This mechanism allows the seed to optimize the timing of its germination. The information is then erased in the germinated embryo, so that the next generation can store new data on its environment.

This research was a carried out by SPSW member Luis Lopez-Molina and his team at the Department of Botany and Plant Biology, University of Geneva.

Reference publication
Mayumi Iwasaki, Lena Hyvärinen, Urszula Piskurewicz, Luis Lopez-Molina
Non-canonical RNA-directed DNA methylation participates in maternal and environmental control of seed dormancy
eLife 2019;8:e37434 doi: 10.7554/eLife.37434