Some aspects of development and cell wall properties of the desiccation-sensitive embryos of Encephalartos natalensis (Zamiaceae)
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The present investigation can be divided into two main sections: the first dealing with the post-shedding embryogenesis of Encephalartos natalensis and the second concerned with the cell wall properties of immature and mature embryos of this species. Development of the embryo of E. natalensis from a rudimentary meristematic structure approximately 700 μm in length, extends over six months after the seed is shed from the strobilus. Throughout its development the embryo remains attached to a long suspensor. Differentiation of the shoot meristem flanked by two cotyledonary protuberances occurs over the first two months, during which peripheral tannin channels become apparent. Tannins, apparently elaborated by the endoplasmic reticulum, first accumulate in the large central vacuole and ultimately fill the channel. By the fourth month of development the root meristem is apparent and procambial tissue forming discrete vascular bundles can be discerned in the elongating cotyledons. Between four and six months, mucilage ducts differentiate, and, after six months when the seed becomes germinable, the embryo is characterised by cotyledons far longer than the axis. Shoot and root meristem cells remain ultrastructurally similar throughout embryo ontogeny, containing small vacuoles, many welldifferentiated mitochondria and ER profiles, abundant polysomes, plastids containing small starch deposits and Golgi bodies. Unusually however, Golgi bodies are infrequent in other cells including those elaborating mucilage which is accumulated in distended ER and apparently secreted into the duct lumen directly by ER-derived vesicles. The nonmeristematic cells accumulate massive starch deposits to the exclusion of any protein bodies, and only very sparse lipid, features which are considered in terms of the prolonged period of embryo development and the high atmospheric oxygen content of the Carboniferous Period, when cycads are suggested to have originated. With regard to plant cell walls, the present investigation employed immunofluorescence microscopy and immunocytochemistry to characterise the cell walls of immature and mature embryos of the recalcitrant-seeded E. natalensis to determine wall composition and potential changes with development. These techniques, together with cryo-scanning- and transmissionelectron microscopy (TEM) were used to analyse potential changes in the cell walls of mature embryos upon desiccation. Immature cell walls appeared to be composed of low- and high methyl esterified epitopes of pectin, rhamnogalacturonan-associated arabinan, and the hemicellulose xyloglucan, while partially-esterified epitopes of pectin appear to have a punctuate distribution in the wall. Arabinogalactan protein recognised by the LM2 antibody, along with rhamnogalacturonan-associated galactan and the hemicellulose xylan, were not positively localised using immunological probes, suggesting that the embryo of the current species does not possess these epitopes. Interestingly, mature embryos appeared to be identical to immature ones with respect to the cell wall components investigated, implying that these may not change during the protracted post-shedding embryogeny of this species. Analysis of the monosaccharide composition of the walls by gas liquid chromatography complemented the immuno-labelling work. However, there appeared to be abnormally high levels of glucose (Glc), which may indicate the presence of Glc-rich polymers not accounted for by the antibodies used in the current study. Preliminary Glc-normalised data revealed that there may be considerable quantities of arabinose polymers in the wall comparable to that found in desiccation tolerant plants. Drying appeared to induce some degree of cell wall folding in mature embryos, correlating with their possession of wall plasticisers such as arabinose polymers, but this was limited, due to the abundance of amyloplasts, which filled the cytoplasmic space. From the results of this study, it is proposed that the embryo cell walls of E. natalensis are constitutively prepared for the flexibility required during cell growth and expansion, which may facilitate the observed moderate cell wall folding in mature embryos upon drying. This, together with an abundant supply of amyloplasts in the cytomatrix may provide sufficient mechanical stabilisation during desiccation even though the seeds of this species are highly desiccation sensitive. Overall, this study has been a relatively comprehensive coverage of histological and ultrastructural aspects of embryogenesis in E. natalensis. This work will form a pivotal basis for future studies, which may ultimately lead to the successful germplasm cryopreservation and in vitro production on a commercial scale of these, and other, endangered cycad species. Furthermore, the work on cell walls in this investigation has provided improved comprehension of the responses of seed cell walls to dehydration.