PLoS genetics

Local evolution of seed flotation in Arabidopsis.

PMID 24625826


Arabidopsis seeds rapidly release hydrophilic polysaccharides from the seed coat on imbibition. These form a heavy mucilage layer around the seed that makes it sink in water. Fourteen natural Arabidopsis variants from central Asia and Scandinavia were identified with seeds that have modified mucilage release and float. Four of these have a novel mucilage phenotype with almost none of the released mucilage adhering to the seed and the absence of cellulose microfibrils. Mucilage release was modified in the variants by ten independent causal mutations in four different loci. Seven distinct mutations affected one locus, coding the MUM2 β-D-galactosidase, and represent a striking example of allelic heterogeneity. The modification of mucilage release has thus evolved a number of times independently in two restricted geographical zones. All the natural mutants identified still accumulated mucilage polysaccharides in seed coat epidermal cells. Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) relaxometry their production and retention was shown to reduce water mobility into internal seed tissues during imbibition, which would help to maintain seed buoyancy. Surprisingly, despite released mucilage being an excellent hydrogel it did not increase the rate of water uptake by internal seed tissues and is more likely to play a role in retaining water around the seed.