Late seed maturation: drying without dying

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Abstract

Besides the deposition of storage reserves, seed maturation is characterized by the acquisition of functional traits including germination, desiccation tolerance, dormancy, and longevity. After seed filling, seed longevity increases up to 30-fold, concomitant with desiccation that brings the embryo to a quiescent state. The period that we define as late maturation phase can represent 10-78% of total seed development time, yet it remains overlooked. Its importance is underscored by the fact that in the seed production chain, the stage of maturity at harvest is the primary factor that influences seed longevity and seedling establishment. This review describes the major events and regulatory pathways underlying the acquisition of seed longevity, focusing on key indicators of maturity such as chlorophyll degradation, accumulation of raffinose family oligosaccharides, late embryogenesis abundant proteins, and heat shock proteins. We discuss how these markers are correlated with or contribute to seed longevity, and highlight questions that merit further attention. We present evidence suggesting that molecular players involved in biotic defence also have a regulatory role in seed longevity. We also explore how the concept of plasticity can help understand the acquisition of longevity.

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