Degradation of seed mucilage by soil microflora promotes early seedling growth of a desert sand dune plant

Xuejun Yang, Carol C. Baskin, Jerry M. Baskin, Wenhao Zhang, Zhenying Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


In contrast to the extensive understanding of seed mucilage biosynthesis, much less is known about how mucilage is biodegraded and what role it plays in the soil where seeds germinate. We studied seed mucilage biodegradation by a natural microbial community. High-performance anion-exchange chromatography (HPAEC) was used to determine monosaccharide composition in achene mucilage of Artemisia sphaerocephala. Mucilage degradation by the soil microbial community from natural habitats was examined by monosaccharide utilization tests using Biolog plates, chemical assays and phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analysis. Glucose (29.4%), mannose (20.3%) and arabinose (19.5%) were found to be the main components of achene mucilage. The mucilage was biodegraded to CO2 and soluble sugars, and an increase in soil microbial biomass was observed during biodegradation. Fluorescence microscopy showed the presence of mucilage (or its derivatives) in seedling tissues after growth with fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-labelled mucilage. The biodegradation also promoted early seedling growth in barren sand dunes, which was associated with a large soil microbial community that supplies substances promoting seedling establishment. We conclude that biodegradation of seed mucilage can play an ecologically important role in the life cycles of plants especially in harsh desert environments to which A.sphaerocephala is well-adapted. Each plant species has evolved its own complex of adaptive life history strategies for survival. Seed coat mucilage is thought to play an ecologically important role in seed dispersal of desert plants. Here, we report that the seed mucilage of Artemisia sphaerocephala, a dominant pioneer species inhabiting moving desert sand dunes functions by aiding early seedling growth of this species in barren sandy soils through uptake of derivatives resulting from mucilage biodegradation by the soil microbial community. Our study defines a role of mucilage in the plant life cycle that heretofore has been overlooked.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)872-883
Number of pages12
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2012


  • Adaptation
  • Artemisia sphaerocephala
  • Moving sand dunes
  • Mucilage biodegradation
  • Plant-microbe interaction
  • Polysaccharide
  • Soil microbial community

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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