In the context of climate changes, drought and heat waves are more and more common. In the past years, seed harvest yield decreased significantly, resulting in less produced food, with lower quality and higher price. Katerina Macova and Helene Robert Boisivon and her team try to understand how warm temperatures impact seed production, from the moment of flowering up to the maturation of seeds. In their recent publication, they investigated seed development in canola and discovered that all phases of development are affected and less viable seeds are produced. A part of the seeds is sprouting inside the fruit and cannot be stored for the next round of sowing while another part produces unviable embryos. The embryo growing inside the seed (like a baby in the mother’s womb) will germinate into a new plantlet. An unviable embryo won’t grow, and one entire generation of seeds is therefore lost. The research findings were recently published in the Frontiers in Plant Science.

“Effects of heat on decreased seed production are known. Up to date, pollen development was mostly studied, since heat shocks are lethal for pollen development. And no pollen means no seeds. Most of the impact of high temperatures on seed development with a detailed description of what is happening was not yet described. Studying the effect of heat on crops, such as canola, with a life cycle of 8 months or more, takes time. This is why we worked also with Arabidopsis thaliana, the most commonly used model plant with a 3-month life cycle and many genetic tools available,” explains Helene Boisivon, the corresponding author of the study.

Researchers need to first describe what is happening so that they can further investigate how this is happening. Understanding the mechanisms of a problem allows them to find a solution to the problem. Therefore, finding the path toward a solution against the deleterious effects of heat on seed production is of crucial importance, as climate change is inevitable. Together with other researchers studying drought and disease resistance, Helene Boisivon aspires to help develop strategies for breeding resilient crops.

"Our work relies on plant growth in very specific and stable growth conditions. The modern equipment and expert support in the CEITEC Plant Science Core Facility enabled us to set up outgrowth conditions for long-term plant phenotyping. This research took at least three years of plant cultivation in the greenhouses at CEITEC. We complemented plant phenotyping with microscopy observations. We have spent hours at the light and confocal microscopes at the Cellular Imaging Core Facility to do our observations. We are very grateful for the support and the expertise of the involved CEITEC Core Facilities,” concludes Helene Boisivon.

The first author of this research is a PhD student Katerina Macova, supported by Unnikannan Prabhullachandran (also PhD student) and Marie Stefkova. The research team collaborated with Lenka Endlova from the OSEVA Research Institute of Oilseed Crops in Opava, who provided expertise in the area of seed quality analysis. The team also benefited from the expertise of Ioannis Spyroglou, a biostatistician working at the Plant Science CF. Other contributors were Ales Pencik and Ondrej Novak from the laboratory of Growth Regulators at Palacky University and the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Olomouc, who contributed with hormone profiling of the seeds.

The research was funded by a GACR project (GA19-05200S, Unraveling the thermoregulation of seed development in Brassica napus) and the SINGING PLANT project (MSMT, CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_026/0008446).