As part of the embryo maturation process, orthodox seeds undergo a developmentally regulated dehydration period. The LATE EMBRYOGENESIS ABUNDANT ( LEA ) genes encode a large and diverse family of proteins expressed during this time. Many hypothesize that LEA proteins act by mitigating water loss and maintaining cellular stability within the desiccated seed, although the mechanisms of their actions remain largely unknown. The model plant Arabidopsis ( Arabidopsis thaliana ) contains two genes belonging to the group 1 LEA family, ATEM1 and ATEM6 , and knockout mutations in these genes are being sought as a means to better understand group 1 LEA protein function during embryo maturation. We have identified a T-DNA insertion allele of the ATEM6 gene in which the T-DNA is present just downstream of the protein coding region. While this gene is transcriptionally active and encodes a wild-type protein, there is no detectable ATEM6 protein in mature seeds. Mutant seeds display premature seed dehydration and maturation at the distal end of siliques, demonstrating that this protein is required for normal seed development. We propose that one function for group 1 LEA proteins in seed development is to buffer the water loss that occurs during embryo maturation and that loss of ATEM6 expression results in the mutant phenotype.
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