Seedling vigor is a key agronomic trait that determines juvenile plant performance. Angiosperm seeds develop inside fruits and are connected to the mother plant through vascular tissues. Their formation requires plant-specific genes, such as BREVIS RADIX (BRX) in Arabidopsis thaliana roots. BRX family proteins are found throughout the euphyllophytes but also occur in non-vascular bryophytes and non-seed lycophytes. They consist of four conserved domains, including the tandem BRX domains. We found that bryophyte or lycophyte BRX homologs can only partially substitute for Arabidopsis BRX (AtBRX) because they miss key features in the linker between the BRX domains. Intriguingly, however, expression of a BRX homolog from the lycophyte Selaginella moellendorffii (SmBRX) in an A. thaliana wild-type background confers robustly enhanced root growth vigor that persists throughout the life cycle. This effect can be traced to a substantial increase in seed and embryo size, is associated with enhanced vascular tissue proliferation, and can be reproduced with a modified, SmBRX-like variant of AtBRX. Our results thus suggest that BRX variants can boost seedling vigor and shed light on the activity of ancient, non-angiosperm BRX family proteins.

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