Determinants of seed size and yield in Arabidopsis thaliana

  • Rhiannon Hughes

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


It is becoming increasingly important to improve the yield of seed crops to feed an expanding population and, more recently, to cope with additional strains on food-oriented agriculture posed by biofuel production and global climate change. One strategy to increase yield is to increase seed size. However in nature, due to the limited resources of the mother plant, an enlarged seed size is often associated with a concomitant reduction in seed number. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, a biotechnological approach to increase seed size through the modification of the triploid endosperm or the ovule integuments was shown to be a viable strategy to improve seed yield. Targeted over-expression of the ANT transcription factor specifically within the endosperm significantly increased seed size without negative effects on fertility. Overcoming compromised fertility in arf2 mutants established that ARF2 and the integuments are important factors in determining seed size and yield. To ensure agronomic relevance, both the gross yield and the harvest index (HI, ratio of seed yield to biological yield) were used to assess the impact of traits, such as increased integument size, introduced into Arabidopsis. To uncover novel regulators of seed size and further develop the current understanding of seed development, second-site mutations were induced in the auxin response factor 2 (arf2) mutant, which produces large seeds due to extra cell division in the ovule integuments. The ARABIDOPSIS CRINKLY 4 (ACR4) gene was identified as a suppressor of the arf2 seed phenotype. In arf2-8 acr4 double mutants, an additive effect on cell proliferation was observed, indicating that ACR4 affects the seed coat through a developmental pathway independent of ARF2. Natural variation present in Arabidopsis was used to study seed yield and its components. Considerable variation in seed size, yield and HI was revealed. Significantly, high seed weight was not associated with high yield or high HI. In contrast, high seed number and reduced plant stature were revealed as important components of high yield and yield efficiency. Additionally, ERECTA was identified as a potential ‘Green Revolution’ gene. Seed size in Arabidopsis was shown to be an extremely plastic trait in response to alterations in the post-flowering source-sink ratio, increasing by 35.0 – 66.2% in the ecotypes tested. Furthermore, a difference in seed weight between restricted (high source-sink ratio) and unrestricted (low source-sink ratio) pollinations was first observed remarkably early in seed development. However, reducing seed number by restricting pollination did not substantially alter integument or endosperm development in order to facilitate increased nutrient uptake.
Date of Award1 Jul 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRoderick Scott (Supervisor)


  • seed size
  • seed yield
  • endosperm
  • auxim response factor 2
  • integument

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