Sexual gene shuffling suppressed in plants

A step towards preserving hybrid vigour more easily in future generations. Photo credit: Jeremy Burgess/Science Photo LibraryUsing a combination of three genetic mutations, plant researchers have disrupted the usual process of genetic shuffling during the formation of reproductive cells — male pollen and female ova. These triple mutant plants instead produce pollen and ova genetically identical to the cells of the parent plant by simple mitotic cell division.

The results, published today in PLoS Biology could bring plant breeders a step closer to generating crops that produce their seeds completely asexually — a process called apomixis1.

Such crops have long been sought because harnessing apomixis would dramatically accelerate plant breeding. The hybrid offspring of crosses between two different cultivars of a crop plant often tend to produce higher yields. But when hybrids are allowed to self-fertilize to produce the next generation of seeds, the intricate genetic networks that brought about this ‘hybrid vigor’ are shuffled, generating offspring that are often not as vigorous as their parent.

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