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Plant J. 2002 Oct;32(2):221-31.

Paternal mRNA and protein synthesis coincides with male chromatin decondensation in maize zygotes.

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Institut für Allgemeine Botanik, Angewandte Molekularbiologie der Pflanzen II, Universität Hamburg, Ohnhorststrasse 18, 22609 Hamburg, Germany.


Decondensation of the male genome after fertilization is a prerequisite for replication and transcription. Cytological analysis has revealed decondensation of the male chromatin to commence immediately after karyogamy and progress rapidly, pointing to an early start of transcription. To investigate early transcription from the paternal genome in maize zygotes, we generated transgenic plants containing green fluorescent protein (GFP) under control of the 35S promoter. Single transgenic sperm cells from these plants were used to fertilize isolated wild-type egg cells in vitro. These sperm cells did not contain gfp transcripts. Appearance of gfp mRNA, 4 h after fertilization, was coincident with decondensation of the male chromatin, and clearly demonstrates early accessibility to the transcriptional machinery of at least a part of the male genome. Translational activity in early zygotes was evident 6 h after fertilization, as demonstrated by measurable levels of GFP fluorescence signal. Using a similar strategy, we also demonstrated activity of the paternal genome early in endosperm development. These findings may exclude any global mechanism of silencing the entire paternal genome over this period, and make an almost immediate paternal contribution to zygote and early endosperm development conceivable. These data are also considered in the perspective of current views of genome activation in the zygotes and young embryos of animals.

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