Researchers From CEITEC Are Investigating How Climate Change Affects Seed Development

Droughts and heat waves are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change. In recent years, the yield of harvested seeds has decreased significantly, resulting in less food produced, with lower quality and higher prices. Katerina Mácová and Helene Robert Boisivon’s research team at Brno’s CEITEC research institute are trying to discover how high temperatures affect seed production, from the time of flowering to the time of seed maturation. Photo credit: CEITEC

Czech Republic, July 11 (BD) – In a recent publication, the researchers examined seed development in oilseed rape and found that all stages of development are affected and that plants produce less viable seeds with lower oil content. Some of the seeds germinate inside the fruit and cannot be stored for the next sowing wave, while others produce non-viable embryos. The embryo growing inside the seed germinates into a new plant. The non-viable embryo does not grow, and thus one whole generation of seeds is lost. The results of this research were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.

“The effects of heat on reduced seed production are well known,” explained Boisivon. “Until now, most studies have focused on pollen development because heat shocks are fatal to pollen development, and a lack of pollen automatically means a lack of seeds. The effect of high temperatures on seed development with a detailed description of what happens in the plant has not existed so far. Studying the effect of heat on crops such as rape, with a life cycle of eight months or more, is very time consuming. That is why we also worked with the most commonly used model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, which has a life cycle of only three months and is compatible with many of the available genetic tools.” 

Scientists must first describe a phenomenon in order to further investigate why it is happening. Understanding the mechanisms of the problem is supposed to be the first step to finding a solution. Since climate change is inevitable, it is very important for society to find a solution to counteract the harmful effects of heat on seed production. Together with other researchers focusing on drought and plant disease resistance, Boisivon is trying to help develop strategies for breeding resistant crops.

“For our research, we need to grow plants in very specific and stable conditions,” she said. “Modern equipment and expert support in the Plant Research Laboratory at CEITEC has enabled us to set up growth conditions for long-term phenotyping of plants. Our research lasted for more than three years and we grew the plants in greenhouses for the whole time. Phenotyping of plants was complemented by microscopic observations. We spent long hours at the light and confocal microscopes in the Central Laboratory of Cellular Imaging to carry out our observations. We are very grateful for the support and expertise of our colleagues in the shared laboratories.”

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