Germination and early seedling development are critical for successful stand establishment of plants. Following germination, the cotyledons, which are derived from embryonic tissue, emerge from the seed. Arabidopsis seedlings at post-germinative stages are supported mainly by the supply of nutrition from the cotyledons until vegetative leaves emerge and initiate photosynthesis. The switch to autotrophic growth is a significant transition at the post-germinative stage. Here, we provide evidence that down-regulation of SQUAMOSA PROMOTER-BINDING PROTEIN LIKE13 (SPL13) by microRNA156 (miR156) plays an important role in the regulation of the post-germinative switch from the cotyledon stage to the vegetative-leaf stage. Silent mutations created in the SPL13 sequence in the region that is complementary to the miR156 sequence caused the deregulation of the mutant form of SPL13 (mSPL13) mRNA from miR156. Mutant seedlings over-accumulated miRNA-resistant messages and exhibited a delay in the emergence of vegetative leaves compared to wild-type seedlings. The delay was not observed in control transgenic plants expressing non-mutated SPL13, indicating that the phenotype was caused specifically by the silent mutations and deregulation of SPL13 from miR156. Characterization of the SPL13 promoter indicated that this gene is expressed mainly in the hypocotyl and affects leaf primordium development. These results suggest that the repression of SPL13 by miR156 is essential for normal post-germinative growth in Arabidopsis.
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