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The impact of environmental stresses to the mother plant on seed quality


Bill Finch-Savage and Sajjad Awan

Environmental conditions during seed development on the mother plant determines seed quality: how long a seed can be stored, if it will be dormant, if it will germinate readily after storage and if it will grow into a healthy, vigorous new plant. Seed quality is therefore central to a functioning seed industry and efficient and cost-effective agricultural production. Seed wastage resulting from sub-optimal seed performance therefore undermines food security and livelihoods.

The Finch-Savage group is part of the EU-project “EcoSeed” set up to investigate the impact of environmental stresses to the mother plant on seed quality. In this project, three crop species, Brassica oleracea (cabbage family), Hordeum vulgare (barley), and Helianthus annuus (sunflower) will be studied together with the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, to see how drought and elevated temperatures suffered by the mother plant, impact upon seed quality. The project team will then investigate how changes in temperature, humidity and oxygen concentrations during storage further affect seed viability, storability, and seedling vigour. The knowledge gained from the detailed study of these four plant species will then be transferred to wild plant species to the benefit of conservation projects.

The project team will conduct detailed physiological characterisation of the mother plants and the seeds produced and will apply the most recent state-of-the-art “omics” (transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics) and “post-omics” techniques to unravel factors that determine seed quality on different levels: they will study how genes within the seed are affected by stress, and how this influences the production of proteins and smaller compounds required for a healthy metabolism.

Project details:

Funded by the 7th EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, the project „Impacts of Environmental Conditions on Seed Quality“ (acronym „EcoSeed“) was awarded a rounded sum of €3 million. EcoSeed is a four year project running from the start of 2013 to the end of 2016. The project is led by the University of Innsbruck with 10 other participating institutions: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (United Kingdom), Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung, Gatersleben (Germany), Université Pierre et Marie Curie (France), Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (Germany), Warwick University (United Kingdom), Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France), University of Leeds (United Kingdom), Universidad de Salamanca (Spain), Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (France) and Limagrain Europe (France).