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Seed dormancy is an ecologically important adaptive trait in plants whereby germination is repressed even under favorable germination conditions such as imbibition with water. In Arabidopsis and most plant species, dormancy absolutely requires an unidentified seed coat germination-repressive activity and constitutively higher abscisic acid (ABA) levels upon seed imbibition. The mechanisms underlying these processes and their possible relationship are incompletely understood. We developed a "seed coat bedding" assay monitoring the growth of dissected embryos cultured on a layer of seed coats, allowing combinatorial experiments using dormant, nondormant, and various genetically modified seed coat and embryonic materials. This assay, combined with direct ABA measurements, revealed that, upon imbibition, dormant coats, unlike nondormant coats, actively produce and release ABA to repress embryo germination, whatever the embryo origin, i.e., from dormant, nondormant, or never dormant aba seeds, unable to synthesize ABA. The persistent high ABA levels in imbibed dormant seeds requires the permanent expression of the DELLA gene RGL2, where it remains insensitive to gibberellins (GA) unlike in nondormant seeds. These findings present the seed coat as an organ actively controlling germination upon seed imbibition and provide a framework to investigate how environmental factors break seed dormancy.

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