When phytochrome is in its P fr state, it may absorb a far-red photon and change once again into its P r state. This bistable behavior makes phytochrome an ideal biochemical switch, with the P fr isoform serving as the “signaling” state to the plant. As one example of this biological function, red light typically penetrates several centimeters into loose soil (., Borthwick et al. 1952, Botto et al. 1996). As the sun rises higher each day in the spring, an increasing amount of red light reaches the seeds, until a sufficient concentration of phytochrome switches from its P r isoform to its P fr isoform. This signals the cellular mechanisms of the seed that it is time to sprout. If, on the other hand, the seed is buried too deeply, it will never sprout and will eventually die.
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