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New Phytol. 2007;176(3):511-36.

The cellular and molecular biology of conifer embryogenesis.

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  • 1School of Biology and Institute of Paper Science and Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, 500 10th Street, Atlanta GA 30318, USA. john.cairney@ipst.gatech.edu


Gymnosperms and angiosperms are thought to have evolved from a common ancestor c. 300 million yr ago. The manner in which gymnosperms and angiosperms form seeds has diverged and, although broad similarities are evident, the anatomy and cell and molecular biology of embryogenesis in gymnosperms, such as the coniferous trees pine, spruce and fir, differ significantly from those in the most widely studied model angiosperm Arabidopsis thaliana. Molecular analysis of signaling pathways and processes such as programmed cell death and embryo maturation indicates that many developmental pathways are conserved between angiosperms and gymnosperms. Recent genomics research reveals that almost 30% of mRNAs found in developing pine embryos are absent from other conifer expressed sequence tag (EST) collections. These data show that the conifer embryo differs markedly from other gymnosperm tissues studied to date in terms of the range of genes transcribed. Approximately 72% of conifer embryo-expressed genes are found in the Arabidopsis proteome and conifer embryos contain mRNAs of very similar sequence to key genes that regulate seed development in Arabidopsis. However, 1388 loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) embryo ESTs (11.4% of the collection) are novel and, to date, have been found in no other plant. The data imply that, in gymnosperm embryogenesis, differences in structure and development are achieved by subtle molecular interactions, control of spatial and temporal gene expression and the regulating agency of a few unique proteins.

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