The gametophytic maternal effect mutant medea (mea) shows aberrant growth regulation during embryogenesis in Arabidopsis thaliana. Embryos derived from mea eggs grow excessively and die during seed desiccation. Embryo lethality is independent of the paternal contribution and gene dosage. The mea phenotype is consistent with the parental conflict theory for the evolution of parent-of-origin-specific effects. MEA encodes a SET domain protein similar to Enhancer of zeste, a member of the Polycomb group. In animals, Polycomb group proteins ensure the stable inheritance of expression patterns through cell division and regulate the control of cell proliferation.
In the ovules of most sexual flowering plants female gametogenesis is initiated from a single surviving gametic cell, the functional megaspore, formed after meiosis of the somatically derived megaspore mother cell (MMC)1,2. Because some mutants and certain sexual species exhibit more than one MMC2-4, and many others are able to form gametes without meiosis (by apomixis)5, it has been suggested that somatic cells in the ovule are competent to respond to a local signal likely to play an important function in determination6. Here we show that the Arabidopsis protein ARGONAUTE9 (AGO9) controls female gamete formation by restricting the specification of gametophyte precursors in a dosage-dependent, non-cell-autonomous manner. Mutations in AGO9 lead to the differentiation of multiple gametic cells that are able to initiate gametogenesis. The AGO9 protein is not expressed in the gamete lineage; instead, it is expressed in cytoplasmic foci of somatic companion cells. Mutations in SUPPRESSOR OF GENE SILENCING3 and RNA-DEPENDENT RNA POLYMERASE6 exhibit an identical defect to ago9 mutants, indicating that the movement of small RNA (sRNA) silencing out of somatic companion cells is necessary for controlling the specification of gametic cells. AGO9 preferentially interacts with 24 nucleotide (nt) sRNAs derived from transposable elements (TEs), and its activity is necessary to silence TEs in female gametes and their accessory cells. Our results show that AGO9-dependent sRNA silencing is crucial to specify cell fate in the Arabidopsis ovule, and that epigenetic reprogramming in companion cells is necessary for sRNA–dependent silencing in plant gametes.
We report here the isolation of the Arabidopsis SOMATIC EMBRYOGENESIS RECEPTOR-LIKE KINASE 1 (AtSERK1) gene and we demonstrate its role during establishment of somatic embryogenesis in culture. The AtSERK1 gene is highly expressed during embryogenic cell formation in culture and during early embryogenesis. The AtSERK1 gene is first expressed in planta during megasporogenesis in the nucleus of developing ovules, in the functional megaspore, and in all cells of the embryo sac up to fertilization. After fertilization, AtSERK1 expression is seen in all cells of the developing embryo until the heart stage. After this stage, AtSERK1 expression is no longer detectable in the embryo or in any part of the developing seed. Low expression is detected in adult vascular tissue. Ectopic expression of the full-length AtSERK1 cDNA under the control of the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter did not result in any altered plant phenotype. However, seedlings that overexpressed theAtSERK1 mRNA exhibited a 3- to 4-fold increase in efficiency for initiation of somatic embryogenesis. Thus, an increased AtSERK1 level is sufficient to confer embryogenic competence in culture.
In higher plants, seed development requires maternal gene activity in the haploid (gametophytic) as well as diploid (sporophytic) tissues of the developing ovule. The Arabidopsis thaliana gene MEDEA (MEA) encodes a SET-domain protein of the Polycomb group that regulates cell proliferation by exerting a gametophytic maternal control during seed development. Seeds derived from female gametocytes (embryo sacs) carrying a mutant mea allele abort and exhibit cell proliferation defects in both the embryo and the endosperm. In this study we show that the mea mutation affects an imprinted gene expressed maternally in cells of the female gametophyte and after fertilization only from maternally inherited MEA alleles. Paternally inherited MEA alleles are transcriptionally silent in both the young embryo and endosperm. Mutations at the decrease in DNA methylation1 (ddm1) locus are able to rescue mea seeds by functionally reactivating paternally inherited MEA alleles during seed development. Rescued seeds are larger than the wild type and exhibit some of the abnormalities found in aborting mea seeds. Our results indicate that the maintenance of the genomic imprint at the mea locus requires zygotic DDM1 activity. Because DDM1 encodes a putative chromatin remodeling factor, chromatin structure is likely to be interrelated with genomic imprinting in Arabidopsis.
Little is known about the timing of the maternal-to-zygotic transition during seed development in flowering plants. Because plant embryos can develop from somatic cells or microspores, maternal contributions are not considered to be crucial in early embryogensis. Early-acting embryo-lethal mutants in Arabidopsis, including emb30/gnom which affects the first zygotic division, have fuelled the perception that both maternal and paternal genomes are active immediately after fertilization. Here we show that none of the paternally inherited alleles of 20 loci that we tested is expressed during early seed development in Arabidopsis. For genes that are expressed at later stages, the paternally inherited allele becomes active three to four days after fertilization. The genes that we tested are involved in various processes and distributed throughout the genome, indicating that most, if not all, of the paternal genome may be initially silenced. Our findings are corroborated by genetic studies showing that emb30/gnom has a maternal-effect phenotype that is paternally rescuable in addition to its zygotic lethality. Thus, contrary to previous interpretations, early embryo and endosperm development are mainly under maternal control.
In plants, the outer epidermal cell wall and cuticle presents a semipermeable barrier that maintains the external integrity of the plant and regulates the passage of various classes of molecules into and out of the organism. During vegetative development, the epidermal cells remain relatively inert, failing to respond to wounding or grafting. During reproductive development and fertilization, however, the epidermis is developmentally more labile and participates in two types of contact-mediated cell interactions: organ fusion and pollen hydration. Here we describe the isolation and characterization of one gene whose product normally functions in blocking both types of epidermal cell interactions during vegetative development: the FIDDLEHEAD gene. As suggested by previous biochemical analyses, the gene encodes a protein that is probably involved in the synthesis of long-chain lipids found in the cuticle and shows similarity to a large class of genes encoding proteins related to ␤-ketoacyl-CoA synthases and chalcone synthases. In situ hybridization reveals an epidermal pattern of expression consistent with a role for this protein in the synthesis of lipid components that are thought to localize extracellularly and probably modify the properties of the cuticle.
Defining the contributions and interactions of paternal and maternal genomes during embryo development is critical to understand the fundamental processes involved in hybrid vigor, hybrid sterility, and reproductive isolation. To determine the parental contributions and their regulation during Arabidopsis embryogenesis, we combined deep-sequencing-based RNA profiling and genetic analyses. At the 2-4 cell stage there is a strong, genome-wide dominance of maternal transcripts, although transcripts are contributed by both parental genomes. At the globular stage the relative paternal contribution is higher, largely due to a gradual activation of the paternal genome. We identified two antagonistic maternal pathways that control these parental contributions. Paternal alleles are initially downregulated by the chromatin siRNA pathway, linked to DNA and histone methylation, whereas transcriptional activation requires maternal activity of the histone chaperone complex CAF1. Our results define maternal epigenetic pathways controlling the parental contributions in plant embryos, which are distinct from those regulating genomic imprinting.
The photoreceptor phytochrome (phy) A has a well-defined role in regulating gene expression in response to specific light signals. Here, we describe a new Arabidopsis mutant, laf1 (long after far-red light 1) that has an elongated hypocotyl specifically under far-red light. Gene expression studies showed that laf1 has reduced responsiveness to continuous far-red light but retains wild-type responses to other light wavelengths. As far-red light is only perceived by phyA, our results suggest that LAF1 is specifically involved in phyA signal transduction. Further analyses revealed that laf1 is affected in a subset of phyA-dependent responses and the phenotype is more severe at low far-red fluence rates. LAF1 encodes a nuclear protein with strong homology with the R2R3-MYB family of DNA-binding proteins. Experiments using yeast cells identified a transactivation domain in the C-terminal portion of the protein. LAF1 is constitutively targeted to the nucleus by signals in its N-terminal portion, and the full-length protein accumulates in distinct nuclear speckles. This accumulation in speckles is abolished by a point mutation in a lysine residue (K258R), which might serve as a modification site by a small ubiquitin-like protein (SUMO).
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