Engineering seed dormancy by the modification of zeaxanthin epoxidase gene expression.
Abscisic acid (ABA) is a plant hormone synthesized during seed development that is involved in the induction of seed dormancy. Delayed germination due to seed dormancy allows long-term seed survival in soil but is generally undesirable in crop species. Freshly harvested seeds of wild-type Nicotiana plumbaginifolia plants exhibit a clear primary dormancy that results in delayed germination, the degree of primary dormancy being influenced by environmental culture conditions of the mother plant. In contrast, seeds, obtained either from ABA-deficient mutant aba2-s1 plants directly or aba2-s1 plants grafted onto wild-type plant stocks, exhibited rapid germination under all conditions irrespective of the mother plant culture conditions. The ABA biosynthesis gene ABA2 of N. plumbaginifolia, encoding zeaxanthin epoxidase, was placed under the control of the constitutive 35S promoter. Transgenic plants overexpressing ABA2 mRNA exhibited delayed germination and increased ABA levels in mature seeds. Expression of an antisense ABA2 mRNA, however, resulted in rapid seed germination and in a reduction of ABA abundance in transgenic seeds. It appears possible, therefore, that seed dormancy can be controlled in this Nicotiana model species by the manipulation of ABA levels.