, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 73-80
Date: 16 Sep 2009

A Major Gene Conferring Reduced Ethylene Sensitivity and Maleness in Cucurbita pepo

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External treatment with ethylene had indicated earlier that this hormone is the main factor controlling sex determination in Cucurbita pepo. Up to now, however, there was no genetic evidence that supported the relationship between ethylene production, or perception, and sexual expression in this species. Here we demonstrate that the extreme male phenotype of the Vegetable Spaghetti (Veg) inbred line of C. pepo subspecies pepo is determined by a major gene that confers reduced ethylene sensitivity in plants. The production of female flowers in the Veg line is very delayed and reduced with respect to the contrasting Bolognese (Bog) line, ranging between 5 and 35% of female flowers per plant. This enhanced maleness trait segregates as a single gene in the F2 and backcross (BC) generations, and co-segregates with a weak ethylene-insensitive phenotype in the F2 population, suggesting that the gene responsible for the Veg phenotype could be the result of a mutation in a receptor or response gene for ethylene. Although the etiolated seedlings of the Veg line, and the most androecious plants in the F2 generation, produce more ethylene than those of the contrasting line, they are less sensitive to this hormone, as indicated by a weaker triple response and a delayed abscission of ethylene-treated male flowers. Given that the sexual phenotype of F2 plants is correlated with ethylene sensitivity, with the more sensitive plants producing the higher number of female flowers, our results demonstrate that the ethylene response is directly involved in the control of sex determination in C. pepo. It regulates the induction of female flower production, and therefore the extension of the initial phase of development in which the plant produces only male flowers, as well as the number of female flowers per plant.