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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Timing is everything: early degradation of abscission layer is associated with increased seed shattering in U.S. weedy rice

Carrie S Thurber, Peter K Hepler and Ana L Caicedo*

Author Affiliations

Biology Department, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2011, 11:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-11-14

Published: 14 January 2011



Seed shattering, or shedding, is an important fitness trait for wild and weedy grasses. U.S. weedy rice (Oryza sativa) is a highly shattering weed, thought to have evolved from non-shattering cultivated ancestors. All U.S. weedy rice individuals examined to date contain a mutation in the sh4 locus associated with loss of shattering during rice domestication. Weedy individuals also share the shattering trait with wild rice, but not the ancestral shattering mutation at sh4; thus, how weedy rice reacquired the shattering phenotype is unknown. To establish the morphological basis of the parallel evolution of seed shattering in weedy rice and wild, we examined the abscission layer at the flower-pedicel junction in weedy individuals in comparison with wild and cultivated relatives.


Consistent with previous work, shattering wild rice individuals possess clear, defined abscission layers at flowering, whereas non-shattering cultivated rice individuals do not. Shattering weedy rice from two separately evolved populations in the U.S. (SH and BHA) show patterns of abscission layer formation and degradation distinct from wild rice. Prior to flowering, the abscission layer has formed in all weedy individuals and by flowering it is already degrading. In contrast, wild O. rufipogon abscission layers have been shown not to degrade until after flowering has occurred.


Seed shattering in weedy rice involves the formation and degradation of an abscission layer in the flower-pedicel junction, as in wild Oryza, but is a developmentally different process from shattering in wild rice. Weedy rice abscission layers appear to break down earlier than wild abscission layers. The timing of weedy abscission layer degradation suggests that unidentified regulatory genes may play a critical role in the reacquisition of shattering in weedy rice, and sheds light on the morphological basis of parallel evolution for shattering in weedy and wild rice.