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Am J Bot. 2006 Nov;93(11):1725-9. doi: 10.3732/ajb.93.11.1725.

Role of accelerated style senescence in pathogen defense.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Intercollege Program in Plant Physiology, 208 Mueller Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802 USA; and.


Plants, like animals, suffer from a variety of diseases that are transmitted via their sexual organs. In many species, the flowers senesce rapidly after pollination or fertilization. In ongoing studies of the impacts of a transposon insertional mutation in the gene that encodes the most abundant isoform of a major group-1 pollen allergen of maize, we found that pollen tubes with the mutant allele grow significantly slower in vivo than pollen with the wild-type allele. Here, we report that under field conditions, maize silks (styles) pollinated with pollen bearing the slower-growing mutant allele take significantly longer to senesce, and the resulting ears (infructescences) have dramatically higher incidence of "fungal ear rot" disease than silks pollinated with pollen bearing the wild-type allele. Because ear rot fungi gain access to the developing ear by growing on and through the silks, we propose that accelerated senescence of silks after fertilization is a defense against pathogens such as those causing ear rot. In addition, we divided the silks on each ear into two halves and experimentally varied the type of pollen (wild type, mutant, unpollinated) that was placed onto each half of the silks. Senescence of unpollinated silks was accelerated when ovaries on the other half of the ear were fertilized.

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