Introduction

Lentil (Lens culinaris Medik.) has been cultivated since ancient times. Its seeds have been found in Egyptian pyramids as well as in excavations in the Near East, Greece and Rome. At present, more than 70% of the world's lentils are grown in Asia. However, this species is also becoming more and more popular in Europe as an alternative crop, and is used extensively in vegetarian diets.

Lentil is a large-seeded legume plant and, typically for species from this group, its seeds are susceptible to imbibition injury. Therefore, hydropriming, the most popular method of seed enhancement of many species, does not seem to be suitable for quality improvement of lentil seeds. Another priming method that allows control of water uptake is matriconditioning. During this treatment, seeds, mixed with a solid insoluble matrix of particles and water, slowly imbibe to reach an equilibrium hydration level just below that required for radicle protrusion (Khan et al., 1990; Halmer, 2004). Matriconditioning has proved successful in improving germination, the rate of emergence, stand size, cold hardiness and the prevention of germination thermoinhibition in small- and large-seeded crops (Khan et al., 1990; McDonald, 2000). It also reduces electrolyte leakage, increases endo-P-mannase and dehydrogenase activity and stimulates hydrolysis of storage proteins in the embryo of some vegetable seeds (Habdas et al., 2000; Kepczynska et al., 2003). Dawidowicz-Grzegorzewska (1997) observed fine structural changes in the cells of matriconditioned carrot (Daucus carota L.) and cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.) seeds. However, there is no information on the cell cycle activity changes in seeds during matriconditioning. Since hydropriming and osmopriming usually commence DNA synthesis and increase the proportion of cells in the G2 phase of the cell cycle (Lanteri et al., 1994; Sliwinska and Babinska, 1999; Sliwinska and Jendrzejczak, 2002), similar processes can be expected during matriconditioning.

The aim of this study was to determine the effect of matriconditioning on cell cycle activity, membrane integrity and germination capacity of lentil seeds of differing quality (undeteriorated and deteriorated), especially at lower germination temperatures. The potential for use of flow cytometry and conductivity tests in predicting the effectiveness of the treatment was also studied.

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