The scientific basis of seed germination as revealed in Scripture

Published on December 27, 2008

By Chong Singsit


“…Except a corn of wheat falls into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” John 12:24.


Germination of seeds is a process by which seed-bearing plants change from living non-reproducing life, to living reproducing life in a plant. At germination, the plant does not begin life, but rather resumes the growth and development that was temporarily suspended.

The amazing complexity of each plant is composed in millions of specialized cells, developed from a single cell, the fertilized egg. The exact mechanisms as to how a single fertilized egg turns into a seed and then how the seed turns into a reproducing plant is yet to be fully understood. In germination, we observe a seed (diploid) turn into a gamete (haploid) producing plant.


During germination some radical transformation occurs within the seed physiology and biochemistry. Some of those physiological changes include a higher water content and a higher respiration rate. The conversion of complex sugar such as starch into a simple sugar form such as glucose is a well-known biochemical change observed in the germination of seeds. This conversion process generates the high energy that is required during seed germination and plant growth


There are several internal and external factors that affect the germination process. Genetic, dormancy and vigor of the seed are the internal determinants, while water, oxygen, and temperature are the external factors. No seed will germinate unless it has imbibed water.  A water medium in cells is essential for active metabolism. This in turn permits the synthesis and degradation of materials. Therefore, water is an absolute requirement for germination. 


Oxygen is another essential ingredient in germination. Plants have the same aerobic respiration pathway as animals, so oxygen is an essential requirement for plant development during germination. Temperature plays an important role in directing the speed of germination. Higher temperatures speed up the germination process, while cooler temperatures slow down the process. If the proper combination of external and internal factors is not present, the seed will not germinate.


The anatomy of a seed is made up of an inner embryo and an outer starch part called endosperm. The embryo is what is to become the germinating shoot (plumule) and the root (radicle). The entire genetic information of the plant, such as height, vigor, color pattern, age, etc. is contained in the embryo. The genetic information in the embryo is translated into everything the plant will eventually be during germination.


The embryo and the endosperm are the product of pollination and fertilization. A single microspore (male gamete) fertilized a single megaspore (egg) to give rise to the embryo to maintain the genetic continuity of the plant. On the other hand, a single microspore fertilized two eggs to rise to the endosperm. The later process is referred to as double fertilization. Generally, the embryo is diploid and the endosperm is triploid in their genetic make up.


This unique development process of the embryo and the endosperm has intrigued many scientists with numerous articles having been written on it. A certain gene dosage (2:1) combination between the female and male must be maintained in the endosperm for it to be a viable biological product for many plant species (Johnston et al., 1980). Since the function of the endosperm is to protect and provide nutrition to the embryo it must be biologically viable.


The seed imbibes water to swell as the process of germination begins. The special relationship between the embryo and the endosperm during germination is worth noting. As the embryo begins to grow, branching as plumule (shoot) and radicle (root), there is an acute need for energy and food. The endosperm plays a vital role in meeting these needs. The complex sugar such as starch stored within the endosperm is broken down to a simpler sugar such as glucose.


Glucose is the source of both energy and food for the germinating embryo. Endosperm gives up its content to support the germinating seed. This, in other words, can be interpreted as the process of dying for the endosperm. Jesus when he spoke in John 12:24 “ …except a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone: but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” 


Jesus, when he spoke these words, knew exactly what happened inside the seed in germination, even though it was a spiritual lesson in mind that he had when he spoke of a little grain of wheat. The spiritual lesson is that he died physically in order to give life to those of us who put their faith in him. I have heard people ask how one man’s death could pay for the sins of the whole world. 


From an earthly stand point how can one man dying and paying for the sins for the world but from God’s perspective – it was the only solution, sin must paid in full. Christ is the eternal God who emptied himself to become the sin payment.  As the Scripture said, Jesus fashioned as a man and to become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.


However, the scientific implication of the statement in John 12:24 is far reaching in modern science as scientific truth is revealed in this passage as well. Let us go back to our previous discussion on the relationship between the embryo and the endosperm. There is a delicate relationship between the embryo and the endosperm. The endosperm must die and give up its contents in order to support life in order to regenerate the dying seed. 


If the endosperm refuses to give up itself and support the developing embryo, there could not be a new life springing up from the dying seed. We can observe seeds that have not germinated after several days of planting. When observed closely, the seed is often found rotten. This is the case of the endosperm refusing to give up its life to support the embryo. The endosperm not only is willing to give up itself, but also is also willing to be broken down from a complex biochemical substance to a simple substance. A similar analogy can be made for the embryo and cotyledons in a dicot plant. 


Jesus was not only willing to take your penalty and my penalty of death, but was willing to humble and fashion himself after man, yet without sin. Jesus went from his heavenly glory, the complex, to take his place as a man in human form, the simple. The unique relationship between embryo and endosperm took years of research to understand.  Yet this scientific truth, as revealed in Scripture, is as relevant in modern science today as it was when Jesus spoke it.


The passage in John reveals who Jesus really is and how he knew the intricate design of science. Before science knew the mystery of the germination process, Jesus revealed it in this passage in plain simple language. Jesus knew exactly what changes were going on in the physiology and biochemical part of the seed in germination.


The dying process of the endosperm and the regeneration of the new life of the embryo were very much in his mind when he spoke of a grain of wheat. New life can’t begin to develop unless the dying process in the old life precedes the new life. The work of the flesh and the old nature was nailed to the cross when Jesus died. 


As Paul said, if any man be in Christ is he a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. The endosperm did all that was necessary for the embryo to form new life and become biologically productive in the life of the plant. Jesus has done all that is necessary for us to be spiritually reproducing individuals.  


John reveals the omnipotent and omniscient attributes of Jesus in John 12:24. Only a doctor with experience can diagnose a disease. Jesus is a doctor of doctors and the designer and author of life. The doctor may fail to give the right diagnosis of the disease but Jesus will never give a wrong diagnosis for he knows what we are made of.


Every DNA, every molecule is open in his eyes. He knows what we are made of because he put us together. For example, DNA ensures that cows always give rise to calvesnever to cats or rose bushes (Davis et al., 1990).




Davis PW, Solomon E P, Berg LR. 1990. “The World of Biology” Fourth Edition. pp9.

Johnston SA, den Nijs TPM, Peloquin SJ, Hanneman RE, Jr. 1980. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 57:5-9.


The author is a US-based Research Scientist (Biotechnologist) and an Advisory Board Member of the Kuki International Forum.

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