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Genetic barrier to self-pollination identified

Many flowering plants prevent inbreeding and increase genetic diversity by a process called self-incompatibility, in which pollination fails to set seed if the pollen is identified as its own by the pistil. A research team, led by Teh-hui Kao, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State, has announced, in a paper published in the May 20 issue of Nature, the discovery of a gene of petunias that controls pollen function in self-incompatibility. This discovery completes a critical missing link in the understanding of how self-incompatibility works. Ten years ago, Kao announced, in another paper published in Nature, the identification of the gene, called the S-RNase gene (S for self-incompatibility), that controls pistil function in self-incompatibility. "This male component turned out to be much more elusive than the pistil component," says Kao. "Our team, as well as others, has worked for the past ten years to find it." The recently identified gene, named PiSLF (for Petunia inflata S-locus F-box), encodes a new member of a large family of F-box proteins that are known to mediate protein degradation in diverse organisms, including animals, plants and yeast.

While a species may have as many as 50 or 60 different S-alleles, each plant has only two of them, one inherited from each parent. An allele is one of a number of possible variants of a particular gene; for example, two alleles exist for each of the three genes that determine eye color in humans. Pollen grains are haploid, meaning that they contain only a single set of chromosomes, and thus each pollen grain contains only one of the two S-alleles of the parent plant. The pistil, on the other hand, is diploid, meaning that it has two sets of chromosomes (one from each parent) and therefore has both S-alleles of the parent plant. During pollination, if the S-allele of the pollen does not match either of the two S-alleles in the pistil, the pollen will germinate on the surface of the pistil t
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Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
19-May-2004


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