Background: Unlike animals, higher plants do not establish a germ line in embryo development but form haploid germ cells from diploid somatic cells late in their life cycle. However, despite its prime importance, little is known about how this transition is regulated.
Results: Here, we show that the WUSCHEL (WUS) gene, initially identified as a stem cell regulator in the shoot meristem, is required for megasporogenesis and thus ultimately for the formation of female generative cells. WUS functions in this process by indirectly activating the expression of the WINDHOSE1 (WIH1) and WIH2 genes that encode small peptides found in plants and fungi, but not in animals. WIH genes function together with the tetraspanin-type protein TORNADO2 (TRN2)/EKEKO in promoting megasporogenesis.
Conclusions: Together, our studies identify a pathway promoting germ cell formation from somatic precursor cells.
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