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1.  Using maize as a model to study pollen tube growth and guidance, cross-incompatibility and sperm delivery in grasses 
Annals of Botany  2011;108(4):727-737.
In contrast to animals and lower plants such as mosses and ferns, sperm cells of flowering plants (angiosperms) are immobile and require transportation to the female gametes via the vegetative pollen tube cell to achieve double fertilization. The path of the pollen tube towards the female gametophyte (embryo sac) has been intensively studied in many intra- and interspecific crossing experiments with the aim of increasing the gene pool of crop plants for greater yield, improved biotic and abiotic stress resistance, and for introducing new agronomic traits. Many attempts to hybridize different species or genotypes failed due to the difficulty for the pollen tubes in reaching the female gametophyte. Detailed studies showed that these processes are controlled by various self-incompatible (intraspecific) and cross-incompatible (interspecific) hybridization mechanisms.
Understanding the molecular mechanisms of crossing barriers is therefore of great interest in plant reproduction, evolution and breeding research. In particular, pre-zygotic hybridization barriers related to pollen tube germination, growth, guidance and sperm delivery, which are considered the major hybridization controls in nature and thus also contribute to species isolation and speciation, have been intensively investigated. Despite this general interest, surprisingly little is known about these processes in the most important agronomic plant family, the Gramineae, Poaceae or grasses. Small polymorphic proteins and their receptors, degradation of sterility locus proteins and general compounds such as calcium, γ-aminobutyric acid or nitric oxide have been shown to be involved in progamic pollen germination, adhesion, tube growth and guidance, as well as sperm release. Most advances have been made in the Brassicaceae, Papaveraceae, Linderniaceae and Solanaceae families including their well-understood self-incompatibility (SI) systems. Grass species evolved similar mechanisms to control the penetration and growth of self-pollen to promote intraspecific outcrossing and to prevent fertilization by alien sperm cells. However, in the Poaceae, the underlying molecular mechanisms are still largely unknown.
We propose to develop maize (Zea mays) as a model to investigate the above-described processes to understand the associated intra- and interspecific crossing barriers in grasses. Many genetic, cellular and biotechnological tools including the completion of a reference genome (inbred line B73) have been established in the last decade and many more maize inbred genomes are expected to be available soon. Moreover, a cellular marker line database as well as large transposon insertion collections and improved Agrobacterium transformation protocols are now available. Additionally, the processes described above are well studied at the morphological level and a number of mutants have been described already, awaiting disclosure of the relevant genes. The identification of the first key players in pollen tube growth, guidance and burst show maize to be an excellent grass model to investigate these processes in more detail. Here we provide an overview of our current understanding of these processes in Poaceae with a focus on maize, and also include relevant discoveries in eudicot model species.
PMCID: PMC3170146  PMID: 21345919
Maize; male germline; sperm cell; interspecific crosses; self- and cross-incompatibility; pollen tube growth and guidance; fertilization; reproductive isolation
2.  Sporophytic control of pollen tube growth and guidance in maize 
Journal of Experimental Botany  2009;61(3):673-682.
Pollen tube germination, growth, and guidance (progamic phase) culminating in sperm discharge is a multi-stage process including complex interactions between the male gametophyte as well as sporophytic tissues and the female gametophyte (embryo sac), respectively. Inter- and intra-specific crossing barriers in maize and Tripsacum have been studied and a precise description of progamic pollen tube development in maize is reported here. It was found that pollen germination and initial tube growth are rather unspecific, but an early, first crossing barrier was detected before arrival at the transmitting tract. Pollination of maize silks with Tripsacum pollen and incompatible pollination of Ga1s/Ga1s-maize silks with ga1-maize pollen revealed another two incompatibility barriers, namely transmitting tract mistargeting and insufficient growth support. Attraction and growth support by the transmitting tract seem to play key roles for progamic pollen tube growth. After leaving transmitting tracts, pollen tubes have to navigate across the ovule in the ovular cavity. Pollination of an embryo sac-less maize RNAi-line allowed the role of the female gametophyte for pollen tube guidance to be determined in maize. It was found that female gametophyte controlled guidance is restricted to a small region around the micropyle, approximately 50–100 μm in diameter. This area is comparable to the area of influence of previously described ZmEA1-based short-range female gametophyte signalling. In conclusion, the progamic phase is almost completely under sporophytic control in maize.
PMCID: PMC2814102  PMID: 19926683
Female gametophyte; maize; pollen tube guidance; prezygotic barriers; transmitting tract; Tripsacum
3.  Male–female communication triggers calcium signatures during fertilization in Arabidopsis 
Nature Communications  2014;5:4645.
Cell–cell communication and interaction is critical during fertilization and triggers free cytosolic calcium ([Ca2+]cyto) as a key signal for egg activation and a polyspermy block in animal oocytes. Fertilization in flowering plants is more complex, involving interaction of a pollen tube with egg adjoining synergid cells, culminating in release of two sperm cells and their fusion with the egg and central cell, respectively. Here, we report the occurrence and role of [Ca2+]cyto signals during the entire double fertilization process in Arabidopsis. [Ca2+]cyto oscillations are initiated in synergid cells after physical contact with the pollen tube apex. In egg and central cells, a short [Ca2+]cyto transient is associated with pollen tube burst and sperm cell arrival. A second extended [Ca2+]cyto transient solely in the egg cell is correlated with successful fertilization. Thus, each female cell type involved in double fertilization displays a characteristic [Ca2+]cyto signature differing by timing and behaviour from [Ca2+]cyto waves reported in mammals.
Fertilization involves species-specific interaction and eventually fusion of two gametic cells, and calcium signalling plays a key role in this process. Here, the authors monitor the changes in intracellular calcium that take place during fertilization of flowering plants and point to specific signatures associated with specific steps of the process.
PMCID: PMC4143946  PMID: 25145880

Results 1-3 (3)