Nature, Vol.565, No.7737, 91-+, 2019
A male-expressed rice embryogenic trigger redirected for asexual propagation through seeds
The molecular pathways that trigger the initiation of embryogenesis after fertilization in flowering plants, and prevent its occurrence without fertilization, are not well understood(1). Here we show in rice (Oryza sativa) that BABY BOOM1 (BBM1), a member of the AP2 family(2) of transcription factors that is expressed in sperm cells, has a key role in this process. Ectopic expression of BBM1 in the egg cell is sufficient for parthenogenesis, which indicates that a single wild-type gene can bypass the fertilization checkpoint in the female gamete. Zygotic expression of BBM1 is initially specific to the male allele but is subsequently biparental, and this is consistent with its observed auto-activation. Triple knockout of the genes BBM1, BBM2 and BBM3 causes embryo arrest and abortion, which are fully rescued by male-transmitted BBM1. These findings suggest that the requirement for fertilization in embryogenesis is mediated by male-genome transmission of pluripotency factors. When genome editing to substitute mitosis for meiosis (MiMe)(3,4) is combined with the expression of BBM1 in the egg cell, clonal progeny can be obtained that retain genome-wide parental heterozygosity. The synthetic asexual-propagation trait is heritable through multiple generations of clones. Hybrid crops provide increased yields that cannot be maintained by their progeny owing to genetic segregation. This work establishes the feasibility of asexual reproduction in crops, and could enable the maintenance of hybrids clonally through seed propagation(5,6).