Biogenesis of the complex 3D architecture of plant thylakoids remains an unsolved problem. Here, we analyzed this process in chloroplasts of germinating Arabidopsis thaliana cotyledons using 3D electron microscopy and gene expression analyses of chloroplast proteins. Our study identified a linear developmental sequence with five assembly stages: tubulo-vesicular prothylakoids (24 h after imbibition [HAI]), sheet-like pregranal thylakoids that develop from the prothylakoids (36 HAI), proliferation of pro-grana stacks with wide tubular connections to the originating pregrana thylakoids (60 HAI), structural differentiation of pro-grana stacks and expanded stroma thylakoids (84 HAI), and conversion of the pro-grana stacks into mature grana stacks (120 HAI). Development of the planar pregranal thylakoids and the pro-grana membrane stacks coincides with the appearance of thylakoid-bound polysomes and photosystem II complex subunits at 36 HAI. ATP synthase, cytochrome b6f, and light-harvesting complex II proteins are detected at 60 HAI, while PSI proteins and the curvature-inducing CURT1A protein appear at 84 HAI. If stromal ribosome biogenesis is delayed, prothylakoids accumulate until stromal ribosomes are produced, and grana-forming thylakoids develop after polysomes bind to the thylakoid membranes. In fzo-like (fzl) mutants, in which thylakoid organization is perturbed, pro-grana stacks in cotyledons form discrete, spiral membrane compartments instead of organelle-wide membrane networks, suggesting that FZL is involved in fusing membrane compartments together. Our data demonstrate that the assembly of thylakoid protein complexes, CURT1 proteins, and FZL proteins mediate distinct and critical steps in thylakoid biogenesis.
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