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The Evolution of Embryogeny in Seed Plants and the Developmental Origin and Early History of Endosperm

William E. Friedman
American Journal of Botany
Vol. 81, No. 11 (Nov., 1994), pp. 1468-1486
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2445320
Page Count: 19
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The Evolution of Embryogeny in Seed Plants and the Developmental Origin and Early History of Endosperm
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Abstract

For almost a century, the formation of endosperm from a second and distinctive fertilization event has been viewed as a unique feature of flowering plants. However, until recently, the evolutionary origin of this unique embryo-nourishing entity remained a mystery. Based upon comparative developmental analysis of reproduction among basal angiosperms and their closest extant relatives, the Gnetales (Ephedra, Gnetum, and Welwitschia), it is possible to construct an explicit hypothesis of the events that led to the evolutionary establishment of double fertilization and endosperm. The formulation of this historical record is derived entirely from and dependent upon the determination of reproductive features that are likely to have characterized the common ancestors of angiosperms and Gnetales. Current evidence is most congruent with the concept that a process of double fertilization first evolved in a common ancestor of the Gnetales and angiosperms. Initially, however, the second fertilization product was diploid and yielded a supernumerary embryo. Subsequent to the divergence of the angiosperm lineage from its closest relatives (which include the Gnetales), modification of the development of the supernumerary embryo (derived from the second fertilization event) led to the establishment of an embryo-nourishing endosperm. Comparative analysis of patterns of embryogeny within Gnetales and angiosperms establishes that embryo development in the ancestors of flowering plants (with a rudimentary process of double fertilization) was ab initio cellular, and not free nuclear, as had previously been assumed. Thus, it is likely that the earliest flowering plants displayed an ab initio cellular pattern of endosperm development, whose expression was inherited from that of the supernumerary embryo of the ancestors of flowering plants.

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