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Am J Bot. 2009 Jan;96(1):129-43. doi: 10.3732/ajb.0800311. Epub 2008 Dec 24.

Reconstructing the ancestral female gametophyte of angiosperms: Insights from Amborella and other ancient lineages of flowering plants.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309 USA.


For more than a century, the common ancestor of flowering plants was thought to have had a seven-celled, eight-nucleate Polygonum-type female gametophyte. It is now evident that not one, but in fact three, patterns of female gametophyte development and mature structure characterize the common ancestors of the four most ancient clades of extant angiosperms: Amborella-type, Nuphar/Schisandra-type and Polygonum-type. The Amborella-type female gametophyte is restricted to a single extant species, Amborella trichopoda, and at maturity consists of eight cells and nine nuclei. Development of the Amborella-type gametophyte is essentially identical to the Polygonum-type except that there is an additional and asynchronous cell division at the micropylar pole prior to maturation that produces a third synergid and the egg cell. The Nuphar/Schisandra-type female gametophyte is four-nucleate and four-celled and at maturity contains a typical three-celled egg apparatus and a central cell with a single haploid polar nucleus. This type of gametophyte appears to be universal among extant members of the Nymphaeales (including Hydatellaceae) and Austrobaileyales. Based on explicit reconstruction of character distribution and evolution, the Polygonum-type female gametophyte is certain to be representative of the common ancestors of monocots, eudicots, magnoliids, Ceratophyllaceae, and Chloranthaceae. There are compelling biological reasons to suggest that the four-celled, four-nucleate female gametophyte (as found in Nymphaeales and Austrobaileyales) is ancestral among angiosperms, with transitions to Polygonum-type female gametophytes separately in the Amborellales and in the ancient angiosperm clade that includes all angiosperms except Amborella, Nymphaeales, and Austrobaileyales. Subsequent to the evolution of a seven-celled, eight-nucleate Polygonum-type female gametophyte in the Amborellales, we hypothesize that a peramorphic increase in egg apparatus cell number took place and led to the unique situation in which there are three synergids in Amborella trichopoda.

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