13 ERA-CAPS - Dimorphic fruits, seeds and seedlings as adaptation mechanisms to abiotic stress in unpredictable environments

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Biological Sciences

Abstract

The aim of the SeedAdapt project is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of fruit/seed-related early-life history traits that evolved in annual plant species as adaptations to abiotic stresses. Higher plant dispersal units - diaspores, here: fruits and seeds - support the distribution and early life history of the progeny. Our project will use a comparative approach to understand the dimorphic diaspore (fruit/seed) syndromes produced on the same plant of annual Aethionema species (sister of all core Brassicaceae, cabbage family) and provide distinct adaptations as a dormancy bet-hedging strategy. The availibility of the Aethionema arabicum genome will facilitate our comparative investigation of the epigenomes, hormonomes and transcriptomes in relation to abiotic stress during sensitive developmental processes. We propose that investigating the regulatory basis of fruit, seed, and seedling trait diversity is ideal for integrating new technologies and complementary expertise in order to study a field with utmost importance in ecology, evolution, seed industry and crop breeding.

Technical Summary

The aim of the SeedAdapt project is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of fruit/seed-related early-life history traits that evolved in annual plant species as adaptations to abiotic stresses. Our project will use a comparative approach to understand the dimorphic diaspore (fruit/seed) syndromes produced on the same plant of annual Aethionema species (sister of all core Brassicaceae, cabbage family) and providing distinct adaptations as dormancy bet-hedging strategy. The availibility of the Aethionema arabicum genome will facilitate our comparative investigation of the epigenomes, hormonomes and transcriptomes in relation to abiotic stress during sensitive developmental processes. This comparison integrates new technologies and novel diaspore traits with an epigenetic basis and is important for research in ecology, evolution, seed industry and crop breeding.

Planned Impact

Our interdisciplinary and comparative approach is fundamentally novel and expected to go far beyond known mechanisms. We will elucidate molecular mechanisms of fruit, seed and seedling traits that evolved in annual plant species as adaptations to changing and unpredictable environments. Although these traits are cornerstones for food quality and safety as well as for the fate of ecosystems, the molecular and developmental biodiversity of mechanisms underlying the adaptation to abiotic stresses including heat and drought are only poorly understood. Our research will not only generate new and deep scientific insight and fundamental advancements of academic interest, and will be published in internationally recognized peer-reviewed journals, it also has direct relevance to applied scientists and organizations including the crop breeding and seed industries. High-quality seeds are fundamental for the global seed industry with ca. $40 billion annual turnover. Germination, dormancy and seedling establishment are key traits for crop plants, as they determine establishment in the field and the quality of the harvested product. They are fundamental for adaptation mechanisms to changing environments, e.g. early stages in plant life-history and plant reproduction are especially vulnerable to abiotic stresses such as temperature extremes (climate change) and threaten food security.

To achieve the SeedAdapt objectives we have assembled a consortium of internationally leading experts for molecular seed biology (RHUL), fruit biology and phylogeny (Osnabrück), plant epigenetics (Vienna), plant genome evolution (Wageningen, phylogenomics and cross-species bioinformatics (Marburg) and evolutionary developmental genetics (Jena). The SeedAdapt program will be highly complementary to and synergistic to ongoing projects in the diverse partner laboratories. It opens a new area of multifaceted research in a highly relevant area of modern plant biology that would not be possible in any o the labs as stand-alone projects. To deliver the outputs and reach the goals, to connect researchers and to develop a "virtual European Aethionema lab", inter-laboratory visits and regular meetings are fundamental.

The output of the SeedAdapt project will be available to the public via open-access publication in high-impact factor journals, international meetings and an already developed website 'The Seed Biology Place' - www.seedbiology.eu (recommended in Science 313: 595, 2006) curated by the project leader (Leubner). A SeedAdapt Web Portal will be linked to it using the open source Plone content management system software and a dedicated server with sufficient data storage space will be attached to it. The SeedAdapt Web Portal and Server storage space will support easy sharing of data between the consortium members similar to the ERA-NET vSEED Portal (www.vseed.eu). The SeedAdapt Web Portal will have both a public section and a forum accessible only to consortium members to share and discuss current results. The proposed collaborative trans-national research is highly synergistic and will foster optimal utilization of resources and interdisciplinary expertise and provide an excellent training opportunity for the postdocs and students involved in the project.

In addition to presenting our work at international conferences, we will organize a SeedAdapt Symposium towards the end of the project, open to attendees from the wider scientific community in the academic and industrial fields. This will enable full and direct dissemination of the project's outcome, but also allow others to present related results and connect research in a broader context, e.g. for the molecular basis of crop and horticultural diaspore dormancy diversity. The applied aspects and importance of our findings for seed industry will be a special focus in a 'transfer session' at our SeedAdapt Symposium.
 
Description The aim of the SeedAdapt consortium project was to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of fruit/seed-related traits that evolved in annual plant species as adaptations to cope with abiotic stresses in harsh environments and upon climate change. The network SeedAdapt, a collaboration between six European partners with diverse and complementary expertise, investigated this interesting phenomenon by studying Aethionema arabicum, a small plant originating from the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. The species belongs to the family of crucifers (Brassicaceae or cabbage family) and is therefore also related to Arabidopsis, the famous model plant for genetic and molecular research. The network revealed that, in contrast to Arabidopsis which is a model for monomorphic plants, the SeedAdapt species Ae. arabicum is a dimorphic plant. It forms two morphologically distinct types of fruits and seeds on the same plant. It is proposed that this is a "don't put all eggs in one basket" risk management strategy to survive unpredictable environmental conditions and variable weather. The seed and fruit types differ with respect to several anatomical, biomechanical, physiological, and molecular features. The total number of fruits and the ratio between the two types depend on the developmental scheme of the flower branches, and change in response to different environmental conditions experienced during flowering. In a large experiment, we mimicked different environmental stress conditions by applying different temperatures during flowering. This resulted in altered fruit and seed numbers and different ratios between the two types. Interestingly, not only the numbers and ratios were altered, but also the intrinsic properties of the produced fruits and seeds. We further found for one of the dimorphic seed types that the fruit coats encasing the seeds confer dormancy and block the germination. Our work into the underpinning molecular mechanisms demonstrated that the interaction between environment and fruit/seed type affected the hormone contents, epigenetic regulation and gene expression patterns (transcriptomes). The availability of the Ae. arabicum genome facilitated our comparative investigation of abiotic stress-related epigenomes, hormonomes, and transcriptomes, thereby making it an exciting time to study the remarkable plant diversity by moving beyond Arabidopsis and all other monomorphic plants. The large molecular datasets generated and all findings from this research are being published OpenAccess to make them widely available. The SeedAdapt consortium work has advanced our knowledge about plant-climate interactions and demonstrated that Ae. arabicum provides an excellent model system for studying the role of seed/fruit bet-hedging to survive unpredictable environments.
Exploitation Route Besides for the website and the publications, further publications and the associated databases are currently in the process of being published.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment

URL http://www.seedadapt.eu
 
Description A PhD student, Waheed Arshad, has been associated to the project on Aethionema arabicum 2015. This is with a London NERC DTP scholarship. Another PhD student, Bethany Nichols, has been associated 2017 for the mathematical modelling. The SeedAdapt consortium work has advanced our knowledge about plant-climate interactions and demonstrated that Ae. arabicum provides an excellent model system for studying the role of seed/fruit bet-hedging to survive unpredictable environments. These findings are important for protecting biodiversity, mitigating climate change and a sustainable agriculture.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description BBSRC DTP CASE Studentship with Syngenta in the NPIF (National Productivity Investment Fund) funding scheme - PhD student Eddison Loades. Mechanisms of weed seed persistence and development of novel weed management tools.
Amount £136,000 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/R505730/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2021
 
Description NERC DTP Studentship - SeedEnvironment - Waheed Arshad. Dimorphic fruits, seeds and seedlings in Aethionema arabicum as adaptation mechanisms to abiotic stress in unpredictable environments.
Amount £105,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/L002485/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 09/2019
 
Description PhD studentship "Bethany Nichols" Heteromorphism in Aethionema arabicum (as Co-Supervisor)
Amount £109,000 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2021
 
Title Biological samples of seeds for hormone, transcriptome and RT-qPCR 
Description Biological samples of seeds for hormone, transcriptome and RT-qPCR 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Improved seed hormone and transcriptome analyses as described in various of our publications 
 
Title Aethionema arabicum transcriptome (RNAseq) analysis method 
Description Will be published soon 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Will allow us and other to apply method to other species/projects 
URL http://www.seedadapt.eu
 
Title Aethionema arabicum transcriptome database and improved genome model 
Description Will be published and will be available online soon 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact When published will trigger follow-up research by us and others 
URL http://www.seedadapt.eu
 
Description Bioinformatics of wild and crop species seed transcriptomes 
Organisation Philipp University of Marburg
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Seed experiment conduction, RNA extractions, RNAseq sequencing via service provider, DEG identification and follow-up work.
Collaborator Contribution Bioinformatics of RNAseq sequencing raw data via service provider, DEG identification.
Impact Interdisciplinary
Start Year 2018
 
Description Controls on seed germination and dormancy: is variation in seed coat flavonoids linked to physical changes in seed coat structure? 
Organisation Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Department of Earth Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Conduct comparative 3D seed imaging using SRXTM at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. This is based on a competitive application to get beam time. The cross-departmental (Biological and Earth Science at RHUL) SRXTM group is Dr Tina Steinbrecher, Professor Margaret Collinson and I. Top my best knowledge the 3-day beam time we got awarded is worth at least the amount I typed in (we did not get any money, just beam time). Second project was also successfully completed.
Collaborator Contribution Conduct comparative 3D seed imaging using SRXTM at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. This is based on a competitive application to get beam time. The cross-departmental (Biological and Earth Science at RHUL) SRXTM group is Dr Tina Steinbrecher, Professor Margaret Collinson and I. Top my best knowledge the 3-day beam time we got awarded is worth at least the amount I typed in (we did not get any money, just beam time). Second project was also successfully completed.
Impact 3D images of Lepidium, Aethionema and sugar beet seeds
Start Year 2016
 
Description Fruit Evolution and Adaptation to Mediterranean Habitats in Raphanus (Brassicaceae) 
Organisation University of Osnabrück
Department School of Biology/Chemistry Osnabrück
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration between Dr Tins Steinbrecher, myself and the lead of this project Prof Klaus Mummenhoff (University of Osnabrück, Germany). This is a trinational collaboration funding project between Prof Klaus Mummenhoff (University of Osnabrück, Germany), O. Barazan (Agricultural Research Organization, Israel), Jotham Ziffer-Berger (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel), Thameen Hijawi (Al Quds University, Palestinian Authority), Nasser Samara (Association for Integrated Rural Development, Palestinian Authority)
Collaborator Contribution Collaboration between Dr Tins Steinbrecher, myself and the lead of this project Prof Klaus Mummenhoff (University of Osnabrück, Germany). This is a trinational collaboration funding project between Prof Klaus Mummenhoff (University of Osnabrück, Germany), O. Barazan (Agricultural Research Organization, Israel), Jotham Ziffer-Berger (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel), Thameen Hijawi (Al Quds University, Palestinian Authority), Nasser Samara (Association for Integrated Rural Development, Palestinian Authority)
Impact Interdisciplinary collaboration
Start Year 2017
 
Description Hetermorphism in Aethionema 
Organisation Royal Holloway, University of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-Supervision of PhD student in mathematical modelling of Aethionema heteromorphism.
Collaborator Contribution Lead Supervision of PhD student in mathematical modelling of Aethionema heteromorphism.
Impact Ongoing
Start Year 2017
 
Description Seed and Fruit Morphology 
Organisation Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Diverse projects on seeds and fruits.
Collaborator Contribution Expert knowledge in seed and fruit morphology
Impact Multi-disciplinary
Start Year 2017
 
Description Seed hormone profiling 
Organisation Palacky University
Country Czech Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Preparation of seed samples for hormone profiling.
Collaborator Contribution Hormone profiling analytics conducted and results received. Placements for PhD students and postdocs.
Impact Publications and ongoing future work for publications.
Start Year 2007
 
Description SeedAdapt ERA-CAPS Consortium 
Organisation Friedrich Schiller University Jena (FSU)
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution SeedAdapt is the European Consortium to whom the grant was awarded. Royal Holloway (RHUL) is the lead partner, I am the lead PI of the entire consortium, Dr Kai Graeber (RHUL) is Researcher-CoI and data manager, Dr Joanna Cox and Dr Lorna Ravenhill (RHUL) are consortium manager.
Collaborator Contribution See work program
Impact This is a multidisciplinary projects which started in May 2014. ERA-CAPS SeedAdapt end date is 30/06/2018. Outcomes are publications and an established system for heteromorphism. This works is relevant to climate change and environmental adaptation.
Start Year 2014
 
Description SeedAdapt ERA-CAPS Consortium 
Organisation Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology
Country Austria 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution SeedAdapt is the European Consortium to whom the grant was awarded. Royal Holloway (RHUL) is the lead partner, I am the lead PI of the entire consortium, Dr Kai Graeber (RHUL) is Researcher-CoI and data manager, Dr Joanna Cox and Dr Lorna Ravenhill (RHUL) are consortium manager.
Collaborator Contribution See work program
Impact This is a multidisciplinary projects which started in May 2014. ERA-CAPS SeedAdapt end date is 30/06/2018. Outcomes are publications and an established system for heteromorphism. This works is relevant to climate change and environmental adaptation.
Start Year 2014
 
Description SeedAdapt ERA-CAPS Consortium 
Organisation Palacky University
Country Czech Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution SeedAdapt is the European Consortium to whom the grant was awarded. Royal Holloway (RHUL) is the lead partner, I am the lead PI of the entire consortium, Dr Kai Graeber (RHUL) is Researcher-CoI and data manager, Dr Joanna Cox and Dr Lorna Ravenhill (RHUL) are consortium manager.
Collaborator Contribution See work program
Impact This is a multidisciplinary projects which started in May 2014. ERA-CAPS SeedAdapt end date is 30/06/2018. Outcomes are publications and an established system for heteromorphism. This works is relevant to climate change and environmental adaptation.
Start Year 2014
 
Description SeedAdapt ERA-CAPS Consortium 
Organisation Philipp University of Marburg
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution SeedAdapt is the European Consortium to whom the grant was awarded. Royal Holloway (RHUL) is the lead partner, I am the lead PI of the entire consortium, Dr Kai Graeber (RHUL) is Researcher-CoI and data manager, Dr Joanna Cox and Dr Lorna Ravenhill (RHUL) are consortium manager.
Collaborator Contribution See work program
Impact This is a multidisciplinary projects which started in May 2014. ERA-CAPS SeedAdapt end date is 30/06/2018. Outcomes are publications and an established system for heteromorphism. This works is relevant to climate change and environmental adaptation.
Start Year 2014
 
Description SeedAdapt ERA-CAPS Consortium 
Organisation University of Osnabrück
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution SeedAdapt is the European Consortium to whom the grant was awarded. Royal Holloway (RHUL) is the lead partner, I am the lead PI of the entire consortium, Dr Kai Graeber (RHUL) is Researcher-CoI and data manager, Dr Joanna Cox and Dr Lorna Ravenhill (RHUL) are consortium manager.
Collaborator Contribution See work program
Impact This is a multidisciplinary projects which started in May 2014. ERA-CAPS SeedAdapt end date is 30/06/2018. Outcomes are publications and an established system for heteromorphism. This works is relevant to climate change and environmental adaptation.
Start Year 2014
 
Description SeedAdapt ERA-CAPS Consortium 
Organisation University of Wageningen
Country Netherlands 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution SeedAdapt is the European Consortium to whom the grant was awarded. Royal Holloway (RHUL) is the lead partner, I am the lead PI of the entire consortium, Dr Kai Graeber (RHUL) is Researcher-CoI and data manager, Dr Joanna Cox and Dr Lorna Ravenhill (RHUL) are consortium manager.
Collaborator Contribution See work program
Impact This is a multidisciplinary projects which started in May 2014. ERA-CAPS SeedAdapt end date is 30/06/2018. Outcomes are publications and an established system for heteromorphism. This works is relevant to climate change and environmental adaptation.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Fascination of Plants Day 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Seed germination setup with different crop seeds to inspire the children about plant science and gardening. Exhibition of seed diversity in structures, sizes, shapes and colours and a seed-plant quiz for the same purpose.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Interview with German Radio (Michael Stang, Deutschlandfunk) related to SEB Annual Meeting July 2016 Brighton, appeared on German radio (Forschung Aktuell): http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/forschung-aktuell.675.de.html 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with German Radio (Michael Stang, Deutschlandfunk) related to SEB Annual Meeting July 2016 Brighton, appeared on German radio (Forschung Aktuell): http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/forschung-aktuell.675.de.html
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Rocket Science Project Report Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), contributions and interview, as also detailed in "How to grow a successful space salad - with help from Tim Peake!" - https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/aboutus/newsandevents/news/2016-articles/how-to-grow-a-successful-space-salad-with-help-from-tim-peake.aspx 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact See the RHS Campaign for School Gardening at with the Rocket Science Experiment Overview at
https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/Competitions/Rocket-Science-Experiment-Overview
Our involvement was to conduct rocket science research in collaboration with RHS (ongoing) and to contribute to the RHS rocket science report which was launched by Tim Peake in a PR event in Portsmouth 2016. Also, G Leubner (RHUL) and F Gawthrop (Tozer Seeds) were two of the 4 experts who answered seeds/food in space questions in the report (reaching 600,000 pupils). The RHS undertakes scientific research to underpin horticultural advice provided on the charity's website (1.3 million unique users per month) and to its 450,000 members. It curates four publicly accessible gardens which attract 1.8 million visitors each year. Organises horticultural shows throughout the UK to showcase horticultural excellence.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/Competitions/Rocket-Science-Experiment-Overview
 
Description Science Open Day at Royal Holloway University of London 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Seed germination setup with different crop seeds to inspire the children about plant science and gardening. Exhibition of seed diversity in structures, sizes, shapes and colours and a seed-plant quiz for the same purpose.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018,2019
URL http://www.rhul.ac.uk
 
Description The Seed Biology Place - www.seedbiology.eu 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Our research, teaching and outreach website "The Seed Biology Place" - www.seedbiology.eu is internationally acknowledged and one of the most visited seed biology websites. It provides up-to-date information about seed dormancy and germination and the research of our group, as well as informs on seed anatomy, technology (seed industry), seed evolution and current topics in molecular seed biology and biotechnology. It is recommended by NetWatch of the Science Magazine (Science 313: 595, 2006) and by WebAlert (Current Opinion in Plant Biology 5: 371, 2002) as an information resource for research and teaching. The website has >900 visits / month and is usually among the top-10 hits in seed-related Goggle searches.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,
URL http://www.seedbiology.eu