Reproductive versatility and the epigenetic control of female gametogenesis.
The life cycle of flowering plants alternates between a predominant sporophytic (diploid) and an ephemeral gametophytic (haploid) generation that only occurs in reproductive organs. In Arabidopsis thaliana, the female gametophyte is deeply embedded within the ovule, complicating the study of the genetic and molecular interactions involved in the sporophytic to gametophytic transition. Massively parallel signature sequencing (MPSS) was used to conduct a quantitative large-scale transcriptional analysis of the fully differentiated Arabidopsis ovule prior to fertilization. The expression of 9775 genes was quantified in wild-type ovules, additionally detecting >2200 new transcripts mapping to antisense or intergenic regions. A quantitative comparison of global expression in wild-type and sporocyteless (spl) individuals resulted in 1301 genes showing 25-fold reduced or null activity in ovules lacking a female gametophyte, including those encoding 92 signalling proteins, 75 transcription factors, and 72 RNA-binding proteins not reported in previous studies based on microarray profiling. A combination of independent genetic and molecular strategies confirmed the differential expression of 28 of them, showing that they are either preferentially active in the female gametophyte, or dependent on the presence of a female gametophyte to be expressed in sporophytic cells of the ovule. Among 18 genes encoding pentatricopeptide-repeat proteins (PPRs) that show transcriptional activity in wild-type but not spl ovules, CIHUATEOTL (At4g38150) is specifically expressed in the female gametophyte and necessary for female gametogenesis. These results expand the nature of the transcriptional universe present in the ovule of Arabidopsis, and offer a large-scale quantitative reference of global expression for future genomic and developmental studies.