The gene, called RESURRECTION1 (RST1), has revealed a previously unknown genetic connection between lipid development and embryo development in plants, said Matthew Jenks, lead author of the study and a Purdue plant physiologist.
Lipids play a role in preventing plant dehydration in forming cells' membranes, in molecular signaling and in energy storage. A still-to-be revealed lipid associated with formation of the cuticle that coats plant surfaces may signal whether a seed develops to maturity or is aborted early due to a defective embryo.
"This is interesting because in crop production a number of plants have a problem of reduced yield due to seed or fruit abortion," Jenks said. "It's thought that plants may abort some of their seeds, especially under stress, to conserve and divert resources to the remaining seeds. So, in a drought situation, for example, plants will get rid of some seeds so that they can support growth of at least a few healthy seeds."
In the November issue of Plant Physiology, Jenks and his team of researchers from the Purdue Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture report on the normal gene RST1.
They found the gene while studying a unique surface wax mutant of Arabidopsis, a common laboratory research plant. All plants have a certain amount of wax overlaying leaves and stems.
The abnormal plant, a mutant of RST1, had short, rounded leaves that turned purple during development, and then before flowering, the plant quickly browned and looked dead. It also had a large proportion of small, wrinkled, non-viable seeds with aborted embryos. These contained only 34 percent of the normal amount of lipids.