Somatic embryogenesis is one of the best examples of the remarkable developmental plasticity of plants, in which committed somatic cells can dedifferentiate and acquire the ability to form an embryo and regenerate an entire plant. In Arabidopsis thaliana, the shoot apices of young seedlings have been reported as an alternative tissue source for somatic embryos (SEs) besides the widely studied zygotic embryos taken from siliques. Although SE induction from shoots demonstrates the plasticity of plants more clearly than the embryo-to-embryo induction system, the underlying developmental and molecular mechanisms involved are unknown. Here we characterized SE formation from shoot apex explants by establishing a system for time-lapse observation of explants during SE induction. We also established a method to distinguish SE-forming and non-SE-forming explants prior to anatomical SE formation, enabling us to identify distinct transcriptome profiles of these two explants at SE initiation. We show that embryonic fate commitment takes place at day 3 of SE induction and the SE arises directly, not through callus formation, from the base of leaf primordia just beside the shoot apical meristem (SAM), where auxin accumulates and shoot-root polarity is formed. The expression domain of a couple of key developmental genes for the SAM transiently expands at this stage. Our data demonstrate that SE-forming and non-SE-forming explants share mostly the same transcripts except for a limited number of embryonic genes and root genes that might trigger the SE-initiation program. Thus, SE-forming explants possess a mixed identity (SAM, root and embryo) at the time of SE specification.
Keywords: Arabidopsis thaliana; Fate conversion; Leaf primordia; Shoot apical meristem; Somatic embryogenesis; Stress treatment.
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