Seed World

New Gene Cracks the Code for Self-Pollination in Plants

Plants can now self-fertilize and regulate self-incompatibility thanks to the new gene “Highlander.” The gene presents an opportunity for stronger breeding and more resilient crops, representing a sizable step toward sustainable agriculture.

A problem plants faced in the past is “most flowers are hermaphrodite and have the male pollen sitting next to the female stigma. This risks self-fertilization, which can result in unhealthy plants,” shared a news release from the University of Birmingham.

A study published in Current Biology worked to change that. The investigation began by observing field poppy (Papaver rhoeas), a plant known to avoid issues in self-fertilization thanks to its special mechanism. Poppies’ programmed cell death (PCD) allows the plant to destroy cells in a regulated manner.

The study then focused their research on model plant Arabidopsis thaliana (Thale cress), a weed compared to crops such as cabbage and oilseed rape. Thale Cress is a “self-compatible” plant.

The team used genetic screening to identify “Highlander,” a gene that is crucial for managing self-incompatibility.

Through their experiments, researchers found a gene that, when eliminated, destroyed SI, resulting in self-fertilization for the plant.

“Highlander” encodes protein PGAP1, which is seen in all higher organisms. This study marks the first time that the protein has been found in plants, according to the University of Birmingham.


“This is a major breakthrough, as it not only identifies a new mechanism that is critical for achieving self-rejection of incompatible pollen, but it also implicates a role for specific proteins, called GPI-APs in this process for the first time,” said Noni Franklin-Tong, Professor in the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham in the news release.

“We are very excited by the unexpected and novel findings of this study, as it opens up new avenues, leading research into completely new areas, such as the involvement of GPI-APs and possibly accessory proteins, that help cell-cell interactions, in interactions between pollen and pistil in self-incompatibility,” Franklin-Tong concluded.

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