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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. May 28, 1996; 93(11): 5319–5324.

A mutation that allows endosperm development without fertilization.


The mechanisms that initiate reproductive development after fertilization are not understood. Reproduction in higher plants is unique because it is initiated by two fertilization events in the haploid female gametophyte. One sperm nucleus fertilizes the egg to form the embryo. A second sperm nucleus fertilizes the central cell to form the endosperm, a unique tissue that supports the growth of the embryo. Fertilization also activates maternal tissue differentiation, the ovule integuments form the seed coat, and the ovary forms the fruit. To investigate mechanisms that initiate reproductive development, a female-gametophytic mutation termed fie (fertilization-independent endosperm) has been isolated in Arabidopsis. The fie mutation specifically affects the central cell, allowing for replication of the central cell nucleus and endosperm development without fertilization. The fie mutation does not appear to affect the egg cell, suggesting that the processes that control the initiation of embryogenesis and endosperm development are different. FIE/fie seed coat and fruit undergo fertilization-independent differentiation, which shows that the fie female gametophyte is the source of signals that activates sporophytic fruit and seed coat development. The mutant fie allele is not transmitted by the female gametophyte. Inheritance of the mutant fie allele by the female gametophyte results in embryo abortion, even when the pollen bears the wild-type FIE allele. Thus, FIE carries out a novel, essential function for female reproductive development.

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