, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 225-238

Seed dormancy and germination: the role of abscisic acid and gibberellins and the importance of hormone mutants

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Over the past decades many studies have aimed at elucidating the regulation of seed dormancy and germination. Many hypotheses have been proposed and rejected but the regulatory principle behind changes in dormancy and induction of germination is still a ‘black’ box. The majority of proposed mechanisms have a role for certain plant hormones in common. Abscisic acid and the gibberellins are the hormones most frequently suggested to control these processes. The development of hormone-deficient mutants made it possible to provide direct evidence for the involvement of hormones in germination and dormancy related processes.

In the present paper an attempt is made to assess the role of abscisic acid and gibberellins in the transitions between dormant and non-dormant states and germination. First a conceptual framework is presented in which the different states of dormancy and germination are defined in order to contribute to a solution of the semantic confusion about these terms that has existed since the beginning of seed physiology.

It is concluded that abscisic acid plays a pivotal role during the development of primary dormancy and gibberellins are involved in the induction of germination. Changes in sensitivity to these hormones occur during changes in dormancy. Both synthesis of and responsiveness to the hormones are controlled by natural environmental factors such as light, temperature and nitrate.