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The classical Ubisch bodies carry a sporophytically produced structural protein (RAFTIN) that is essential for pollen development

National Academy of Sciences
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  • Biological Sciences
  • Biology
  • Ecology


Pollen fecundity is crucial to crop productivity and also to biodiversity in general. Pollen development is supported by the tapetum, a metabolically active sporophytic nurse layer that devotes itself to this process. The tapetum in cereals and a vast majority of other plants is of the nonamoeboid type. Unable to reach out to microspores, it secretes nutrients into the anther locule where the microspores reside and develop. Orbicules (Ubisch bodies), studied in various plants since their discovery ≈140 years ago, are a hallmark of the secretory tapetum. Their significance to tapetal or pollen development has not been established. We have identified in wheat and rice an anther-specific single-copy gene (per haploid genome equivalent) whose suppression in rice by RNA interference nearly eliminated the seed set. The flowers in the transgenics were normal for female functions, but the pollen collapsed and became less viable. Further characterization of the gene product, named RAFTIN, in wheat has shown that it is present in pro-orbicule bodies and it is accumulated in Ubisch bodies. Furthermore, it is targeted to microspore exine. Although the carboxyl portion of RAFTINs shares short, dispersed amino acid sequences (BURP domain) in common with a variety of proteins of disparate biological contexts, the occurrence RAFTIN per se is limited to cereals; neither the Arabidopsis genome nor the vast collection of ESTs suggests any obvious dicot homologs. Furthermore, our results show that RAFTIN is essential for the late phase of pollen development in cereals.

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