Persistence of anhydrous organisms in nature may depend on how long they remain viable in dry environments. Longevity is determined by interactions of humidity, temperature, and unknown cellular factors that affect the propensity for damaging reactions. Here we describe our research to elucidate those cellular factors and to ultimately predict how long a population can survive under extreme conditions. Loss of viability typically follows a sigmoidal pattern, where a period of small changes precedes a cataclysmic decline. The time for viability to decrease to 50% (P50) varied among seed species and among 10 phylogenetically diverse organisms. When stored at elevated temperatures of 35°C and 32% relative humidity (RH), P50 ranged from about a week for spores of Serratia marcescens to several years for fronds of Selaginella lepidophylla. Most of the species studied survived longest at low humidity (10–20% RH), but suffered under complete dryness. Temperature dependencies of aging kinetics appeared similar among diverse organisms despite the disparate longevities. The effect of temperature on seed aging rates was consistent with the temperature dependency of molecular mobility of aqueous glasses, with both showing a reduction by several orders of magnitude when seeds were cooled from 60°C to 0°C. Longevity is an inherited trait in seeds, but its complex expression among widely divergent taxa suggests that it developed through multiple pathways.
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Vol. 45 • No. 5