The biomechanics of seed germination

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Abstract

From a biomechanical perspective, the completion of seed (and fruit) germination depends on the balance of two opposing forces: the growth potential of the embryonic axis (radicle-hypocotyl growth zone) and the restraint of the seed-covering layers (endosperm, testa, and pericarp). The diverse seed tissues are composite materials which differ in their dynamic properties based on their distinct cell wall composition and water uptake capacities. The biomechanics of embryo cell growth during seed germination depend on irreversible cell wall loosening followed by water uptake due to the decreasing turgor, and this leads to embryo elongation and eventually radicle emergence. Endosperm weakening as a prerequisite for radicle emergence is a widespread phenomenon among angiosperms. Research into the biochemistry and biomechanics of endosperm weakening has demonstrated that the reduction in puncture force of a seed's micropylar endosperm is environmentally and hormonally regulated and involves tissue-specific expression of cell wall remodelling proteins such as expansins, diverse hydrolases, and the production of directly acting apoplastic reactive oxygen. The endosperm-weakening biomechanics and its underlying cell wall biochemistry differ between the micropylar (ME) and chalazal (CE) endosperm domains. In the ME, they involve cell wall loosening, cell separation, and programmed cell death to provide decreased and localized ME tissue resistance, autolysis, and finally the formation of an ME hole required for radicle emergence. Future work will further unravel the molecular mechanisms, environmental regulation, and evolution of the diverse biomechanical cell wall changes underpinning the control of germination by endosperm weakening.

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