Grain starch phosphorylation and amylose content affect germination and seedling establishment through the combination of direct effects on altered starch granule and molecular structure and indirect effects on amylase activities.
Cereal grain germination is central for plant early development, and efficient germination has a major role in crop propagation and malting. Endosperm starch is the prime energy reserve in germination and seedling establishment. In this study, it was hypothesized that optimized starch granule structure, and not only the endosperm starch content per se, is important for germination and seedling establishment. For that purpose, wild-type (WT), and specifically engineered degradable hyperphosphorylated (HP) starch and more resistant amylose-only (AO) starch barley lines were used. The transgenics showed no severe phenotypes and the WT and HP lines degraded the starch similarly, having 30% residual starch after 12 d of germination. However, the AO line showed significant resistance to degradation, having 57% residual starch. Interestingly, protein and β-glucan (BG) degradation was stimulated for both HP and AO lines as compared with the WT. At late seedling establishment stages, specific sugars were rapidly consumed in the AO line. α-Amylase activity was distinctly suppressed in both the HP and the AO lines. Pre-germination β-amylase deposition was low in the AO grains and β-amylase was generally suppressed in both HP and AO lines throughout germination. As further supported by scanning electron microscopy and histochemical analyses on grain and seedlings, it was concluded that inadequate starch granule deposition in combination with the suppressed hydrolase activity leads to temporal and compensating re-direction of starch, sugar, and protein catabolism important to maintain metabolic dynamics during grain germination and seedling establishment.