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Megaspore Abortion: A Consequence Of Selective Apoptosis?

P. R. Bell
Published 1996 · Biology

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A remarkable feature of megasporogenesis, as seen in the heterosporous fern Marsilea and almost all seed plants, is the regular death of three of the products of meiosis. A general cause of this phenomenon has been hard to identify. Theories invoking causal gradients in the megasporangium or tetrad lack experimental support and could not be applicable universally. However, megaspore death can be regarded as an example of apoptosis (programmed cell death), a phenomenon becoming well established as an essential element in the development of both animals and plants. The genes controlling apoptotic phenomena in animals are now being identified and their products characterized. If megaspore death in seed plants is correctly interpreted as apoptotic, a comparable genetic control can be expected. A hypothesis is presented that illustrates how such a control could have come about. Experiments by Correns on the reproduction of Mirabilis, an autogamous plant with a single ovule in each ovary, have indicated that only 75% of the ovules contain embryo sacs and that only 25% of the pollen is capable of effecting fertilization. These results are in agreement with the kind of control proposed in my hypothesis.
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