The second leaf ofOryza sativa develops, grows and ages within the 10 days that follow imbibition under our controlled continuous-light conditions. Proplastids in the leaf cells develop, mature to become chloroplasts and then age and disintegrate. In an examination of this life process, we studied first the behavior and the number of copies of plastid DNA and levels of chlorophyll by epifluorescence microscopy after staining with 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI), and by fluorimetry with a video-intensified microscope photon-counting system (VIMPCS). The results indicated that the number of copies of the plastid DNA per plastid increased and reached to plateau value of approximately 100 at the time when the elongation of the mesophyll cells and the enlargement of chloroplasts ceased 96 h after imbibition. However, 24 h later, the number of copies of plastid DNA per chloroplast began to decrease and fell rapidly to approximately 30 copies within 168 h after imbibition. Our examination of the number of chloroplasts per mesophyll cell indicated that no division of chloroplasts occurred more than 72 h after imbibition. The results suggest that the decrease in number of copies of plastid DNA per chloroplast was not due to an increase in the number of chloroplasts, but that this decrease was caused by degradation by unidentified enzymes. Since visible senescence of leaves, which was characterized by development of a yellowish color, began 168 h after imbibition, the degradation of plastid DNA seemed to occur 48 h before the visible leaf senescence. When we tested the nucleolytic activities in the second leaves after imbibition by digestion of plasmids in vitro and DNA-SDS polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, five Ca2+−, four Zn2+−, and four Mn2+−dependent nucleases were detected in the leaf blades, and one of the Ca2+−, two of the Zn2+−, and two of the Mn2+−dependent nucleases were also identified in a purified preparation of intact chloroplasts. When the activity of the Zn2+−dependent nucleases (51 kDa and 13 kDa) increased markedly, degradation of the plastid DNA occurred. These results suggest that the destruction of chloroplast DNA, which occurs approximately 48 h before leaf yellowing, could be due to the activation of some metallo-nucleases and, furthermore, this enzymatic degradation propels the leaf towards senescence.
Oryza sativaChloroplast DNA Degradation Metallonuclease First leaf Second leaf