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Ann Bot. 2008 Sep;102(3):343-52. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcn095. Epub 2008 Jun 19.

Role of seed coat in imbibing soybean seeds observed by micro-magnetic resonance imaging.

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  • 1National Food Research Institute, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8642, Japan.



Imbibition of Japanese soybean (Glycine max) cultivars was studied using micro-magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in order to elucidate the mechanism of soaking injury and the protective role of the seed coat.


Time-lapse images during water uptake were acquired by the single-point imaging (SPI) method at 15-min intervals, for 20 h in the dry seed with seed coat, and for 2 h in seeds with the seed coat removed. The technique visualized water migration within the testa and demonstrated the distortion associated with cotyledon swelling during the very early stages of water uptake.


Water soon appeared in the testa and went around the dorsal surface of the seed from near the raphe, then migrated to the hilum region. An obvious protrusion was noted when water reached the hypocotyl and the radicle, followed by swelling of the cotyledons. A convex area was observed around the raphe with the enlargement of the seed. Water was always incorporated into the cotyledons from the abaxial surfaces, leading to swelling and generating a large air space between the adaxial surfaces. Water uptake greatly slowed, and the internal structures, veins and oil-accumulating tissues in the cotyledons developed after the seed stopped expanding. When the testa was removed from the dry seeds before imbibition, the cotyledons were severely damaged within 1.5 h of water uptake.


The activation of the water channel seemed unnecessary for water entry into soybean seeds, and the testa rapidly swelled with steeping in water. However, the testa did not regulate the water incorporation in itself, but rather the rate at which water encountered the hypocotyl, the radicle, and the cotyledons through the inner layer of the seed coat, and thus prevented the destruction of the seed tissues at the beginning of imbibition.

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