Flowering plants go through a complicated double-fertilization process that involves a lot of sperm. But until today, researchers hadn't fully understood the genetic mechanism behind plant sperm production (pictured) and how flowers have sex.

Plant biologists at the University of Leicester researched the unusual plant reproduction system, trying to figure out how it works on the genetic level, and published their findings today in PLoS Genetics. According to David Twell, one of the co-authors of the paper:

Flowering plants, unlike animals require not one, but two sperm cells for successful fertilisation. One sperm cell to join with the egg cell to produce the embryo and the other to join with the central cell to produce the nutrient-rich endosperm tissue inside the seed. A mystery in this 'double fertilisation' process was how each single pollen grain could produce the pair of sperm cells needed for fertility and seed production.

We now report the discovery of a dual role for DUO1, a regulatory gene required for plant sperm cell production. We show that the DUO1 gene is required to promote the division of sperm precursor cells, while at the same time promoting their specialised function as sperm cells. It effectively switches on the essence of male.

So what's the upside for you? First of all, it could help plant-growers understand gene flow in their crops. On a more pure research level, this discovery might help evolutionary biologists better understand what makes flowering plants such a successful form of life; and it may even shed light on boring old single-fertilization reproduction that we animals engage in.


But I think we all know what's really going on here. This lab is trying to prevent the spread of Triffids across the Earth by messing up their reproductive systems. Thanks, Leicester plant biogeeks, for saving the world by studying plant sperm. Those of us who don't fancy being eaten by giant plants from space totally appreciate it.

via PLoS Genetics


Image generated by Lynette Brownfield (University of Leicester).