The dead seed coat functions as a long-term storage for active hydrolytic enzymes
Seed development culminates in programmed cell death (PCD) and hardening of organs enclosing the embryo (e.g., pericarp, seed coat) providing essentially a physical shield for protection during storage in the soil. We examined the proposal that dead organs enclosing embryos are unique entities that store and release upon hydration active proteins that might increase seed persistence in soil, germination and seedling establishment. Proteome analyses of dead seed coats of Brassicaceae species revealed hundreds of proteins being stored in the seed coat and released upon hydration, many are stress-associated proteins such as nucleases, proteases and chitinases. Functional analysis revealed that dead seed coats function as long-term storage for multiple active hydrolytic enzymes (e.g., nucleases) that can persist in active forms for decades. Substances released from the dead seed coat of the annual desert plant Anastatica hierochuntica displayed strong antimicrobial activity. Our data highlighted a previously unrecognized feature of dead organs enclosing embryos (e.g., seed coat) functioning not only as a physical shield for embryo protection but also as a long-term storage for active proteins and other substances that are released upon hydration to the “seedsphere” and could contribute to seed persistence in the soil, germination and seedling establishment.