Background: Several processes of plant development, such as abscission, pollen release, fruit dehiscence, and seed dispersal, require organs or tissues to physically disassociate or split open. Due to the immobility of plant cells, these processes occur through coordinated mechanisms of cell separation that are not found in animals. Arabidopsis produces dry dehiscent fruits (siliques) making it a convenient system for the genetic study of cell separation associated with dehiscence.
Results: We describe here a novel mutation in Arabidopsis called alcatraz (alc), which prevents dehiscence of fruit by specifically blocking the separation of the valve cells from the replum. The ALC gene is shown to encode a protein related to the myc/bHLH family of transcription factors and is expressed in the valve margins of the silique, which is the site of cell separation during dehiscence. Detailed studies using TEM indicates that ALC enables cell separation in Arabidopsis fruit dehiscence by promoting the differentiation of a strip of labile nonlignified cells sandwiched between layers of lignified cells. Transgenic plants expressing antisense or dominant-negative ALC are defective in silique dehiscence.
Conclusions: Cell separation in fruit dehiscence requires a specialized cell layer which is nonlignified and capable of autolysis, specified by a myc/bHLH protein encoded by ALC. These findings may have relevance to other processes requiring cell separation, as well as for the practical design of crops with reduced seed losses.