Floral biology and ovule and seed ontogeny of Nymphaea thermarum, a water lily at the brink of extinction with potential as a model system for basal angiosperms
Nymphaea thermarum is a member of the Nymphaeales, of one of the most ancient lineages of flowering plants. This species was only recently described and then declared extinct in the wild, so little is known about its reproductive biology. In general, the complete ontogeny of ovules and seeds is not well documented among species of Nymphaea and has never been studied in the subgenus Brachyceras, the clade to which N. thermarum belongs. Early male and female function indicate that N. thermarum is predisposed towards self-pollination, a phenomenon that is likely to have evolved multiple times within Nymphaea. While formation of distinct micropylar and chalazal developmental domains in the endosperm, along with a copious perisperm, characterize the seeds of most members of the Nymphaeales, seed ontogenies vary between and among the constituent families. Floral biology, life history traits and small genome size make N. thermarum uniquely promising as an early-diverging angiosperm model system for genetic and molecular studies.
In flowering plants, fertilization relies on the delivery of the sperm cells carried by the pollen tube to the ovule. During the tip growth of the pollen tube, proper assembly of the cell wall polymers is required to maintain the mechanical properties of the cell wall. Xyloglucan (XyG) is a cell wall polymer known for maintaining the wall integrity and thus allowing cell expansion. In most angiosperms, the XyG of somatic cells is fucosylated, except in the Asterid clade (including the Solanaceae), where the fucosyl residues are replaced by arabinose, presumably due to an adaptive and/or selective diversification. However, it has been shown recently that XyG of Nicotiana alata pollen tubes is mostly fucosylated. The objective of this paper was to determine whether such structural differences between somatic and gametophytic cells are a common feature of Nicotiana and Solanum (more precisely tomato) genera. The results show that the male gametophyte (pollen tube) and the sporophyte have structurally different XyG. This suggests that fucosylated XyG may have an important role in the tip growth of pollen tubes, and that they must have a specific set of functional XyG fucosyltransferases, which are yet to be characterized.