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Little Known Mystery of Plant Reproduction Solved

Jun 06, 2014 04:52 PM EDT

Researchers are closer than ever before to understanding how plants reproduce, finally determining how a single pollen grain is able to produce twin sperm cells necessary for double fertilization.

According to a study published in the journal The Plant Cell, a pair of genes called DAZ1 and DAZ1 are essential in the process that allows for pollen grains to consistently produce twin sperm cells.

"We often take for granted sexual reproduction in plants," study lead David Twell said in a statement.

"It is a complex process that has been studied scientifically for over a century, but it is only recently that we are beginning to get a grip on the underlying mechanisms," he adds.

According to the study, genetic analysis of the plant reproductive process revealed to Twell and his team that pollen grains with mutated versions of DAZ1 and DAZ2 only produced a single sperm cell with no twin. This cell could still join with a plant egg to produce an embryo, but with no second sperm cell to produce a nutrient-rich endosperm, the resulting seed was left lifeless.

"We hope to use our discovery to decipher the origins of sexual reproduction and to further demystify the fascinating process - of how plants make the fertile sperm inside the pollen grains - that are essential for the vast majority of our food crop production," Twell said.

Interestingly, the team also found that these genes could be turned off and on by a protein called DUO1. Understanding how DUO1 works could effectively allow agricultural researchers to turn off their plants' reproductive processes, avoiding cross contamination with the nation's food supplies - a problem researchers have been attempting to address for years - especially with growing public concern about genetically modified products.

The study was published in the May issue of The Plant Cell.

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