Kin recognition within a seed and the effect of genetic relatedness of an endosperm to its compatriot embryo on maize seed development

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Feb 5;110(6):2217-22. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1220885110. Epub 2013 Jan 23.


As one of two sexual products resulting from double fertilization in angiosperms, the endosperm nourishes its compatriot embryo during seed development and/or germination and ultimately dies. Theoretical studies suggest that the genetic relatedness of an endosperm to its embryo in the same seed might determine the amount of resources ultimately available for the embryo during seed development. We took advantage of the phenomenon of heterofertilization in cultivated maize to empirically test whether genetic relatedness between a triploid embryo-nourishing endosperm and its compatriot diploid embryo impacts the process of resource allocation between these two sexually produced entities. We used genetically distinct maize inbred lines to perform two crossing experiments. Dry weights of dissected embryos and endosperms of mature heterofertilized and adjacent homofertilized kernels were compared. Embryo weight of heterofertilized kernels was significantly less than that of embryos of homofertilized kernels, whereas there was no significant difference in endosperm weight between the two types of kernels. Our results suggest that the degree of genetic relatedness of an endosperm to its compatriot embryo affects seed development and specifically the amount of maternal resources allocated to an endosperm that are eventually turned over to an embryo. The lower the coefficient of relatedness of an endosperm to its compatriot embryo, the smaller the embryo. Thus, the endosperm of a heterofertilized seed appears to behave less cooperatively with respect to resource transfer toward its less closely related embryo compared with the endosperm of a homofertilized seed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Diploidy
  • Endosperm / genetics
  • Endosperm / physiology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Fertilization
  • Genes, Plant
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Models, Genetic
  • Seeds / embryology
  • Seeds / genetics
  • Triploidy
  • Zea mays / embryology*
  • Zea mays / genetics*
  • Zea mays / physiology