a1 NERC Unit of Comparative Plant Ecology, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, The University, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
The origin and significance of free radicals is described in the broad setting of animal and plant biology and in the specific context of seeds and seed viability. Evidence is given that free radicals play a central if not causal role in promoting molecular damage under the widest range of environmental stresses and induced ageing in mature plant tissuesIn ungerminated seeds, the evidence is less certain. The reason, we argue, is that many attempts to measure free radical processes in seeds are set not against gradients of damage or ageing (as they are in most other biological tissues) but against one of only two options, either seed germinability or mortality. Because free radical reactions differ quantitatively and qualitatively in living and dead tissues attempts to correlate radicalmediated damage with the viability of a population of seeds may be unreliable particularly when measurements are made at uncertain intervals after death. Despite this, the evidence that seeds, uniquely, are exempt from the ravages of oxygen assault is weak. Instead it ismore probable that oxygen plays a central role in seed mortality and may have significance in the evolution of seed persistence.
(Received March 20 1993)
(Accepted May 03 1993)