The reproductive organs of conifers, the pollen cones and seed cones, differ in morphology from the angiosperm flower in several fundamental respects. In this report we present evidence to suggest that the two plant groups, in spite of these morphological differences and the long evolutionary distance between them, share important features in regulating the development of the reproductive organs. We present the cloning of three genes, DAL11, DAL12, and DAL13, from Norway spruce, all of which are related to the angiosperm B-class of homeotic genes. The B-class genes determine the identities of petals and stamens. They are members of a family of MADS-box genes, which also includes C-class genes that act to determine the identity of carpels and, in concert with B genes specify stamens in the angiosperm flower. Phylogenetic analyses and the presence of B-class specific C-terminal motifs in the DAL protein sequences imply homology to the B-class genes. Specific expression of all three genes in developing pollen cones suggests that the genes are involved in one aspect of B function, the regulation of development of the pollen-bearing organs. The different temporal and spatial expression patterns of the three DAL genes in the developing pollen cones indicate that the genes have attained at least in part distinct functions. The DAL11, DAL12, and 13 expression patterns in the pollen cone partly overlap with that of the previously identified DAL2 gene, which is structurally and functionally related to the angiosperm C-class genes. This result supports the hypothesis that an interaction between B- and C-type genes is required for male organ development in conifers like in the angiosperms. Taken together, our data suggests that central components in the regulatory mechanisms for reproductive organ development are conserved between conifers and angiosperms and, thus, among all seed plants.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.