Modularity of the angiosperm female gametophyte and its bearing on the early evolution of endosperm in flowering plants

Evolution. 2003 Feb;57(2):216-30. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2003.tb00257.x.


The monosporic seven-celled/eight-nucleate Polygonum-type female gametophyte has long served as a focal point for discussion of the origin and subsequent evolution of the angiosperm female gametophyte. In Polygonum-type female gametophytes, two haploid female nuclei are incorporated into the central cell, and fusion of a sperm cell with the binucleate central cell produces a triploid endosperm with a complement of two maternal and one paternal genomes, characteristic of most angiosperms. We document the development of a four-celled/four-nucleate female gametophyte in Nuphar polysepala (Engelm.) and infer its presence in many other ancient lineages of angiosperms. The central cell of the female gametophyte in these taxa contains only one haploid nucleus; thus endosperm is diploid and has a ratio of one maternal to one paternal genome. Based on comparisons among flowering plants, we conclude that the angiosperm female gametophyte is constructed of modular developmental subunits. Each module is characterized by a common developmental pattern: (1) positioning of a single nucleus within a cytoplasmic domain (pole) of the female gametophyte; (2) two free-nuclear mitoses to yield four nuclei within that domain; and (3) partitioning of three uninucleate cells adjacent to the pole such that the fourth nucleus is confined to the central region of the female gametophyte (central cell). Within the basal angiosperm lineages Nymphaeales and Illiciales, female gametophytes are characterized by a single developmental module that produces a four-celled/four-nucleate structure with a haploid uninucleate central cell. A second pattern, typical of Amborella and the overwhelming majority of eumagnoliids, monocots, and eudicots, involves the early establishment of two developmental modules that produce a seven-celled/eight-nucleate female gametophyte with two haploid nuclei in the central cell. Comparative analysis of ontogenetic sequences suggests that the seven-celled female gametophyte (two modules) evolved by duplication and ectopic expression of an ancestral Nuphar-like developmental module within the chalazal domain of the female gametophyte. These analyses indicate that the first angiosperm female gametophytes were composed of a single developmental module, which upon double fertilization yielded a diploid endosperm. Early in angiosperm history this basic module was duplicated, and resulted in a seven-celled/eight-nucleate female gametophyte, which yielded a triploid endosperm with the characteristic 2:1 maternal to paternal genome ratio.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Gametogenesis
  • Magnoliopsida / cytology
  • Magnoliopsida / genetics*
  • Magnoliopsida / growth & development*
  • Spores