Apomixis in agriculture: the quest for clonal seeds
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Apomixis, or asexual reproduction through seeds, is a natural trait that could have an immense positive impact on crop production. Apomictic breeding strategies could allow the fixation and indefinite propagation of any desired genotype, however complex. Apomicts display a wide variety of developmental mechanisms, which can be viewed as a short-circuiting of sexual development. Gametophytic and sporophytic apomixis are distinguished by the developmental origin of apomictically derived embryos. Genetic studies suggest that individual elements of gametophytic apomixis, such as apomeiosis and parthenogenesis, are either controlled by one or two dominant Mendelian factors. As recombination around apomeiosis loci is suppressed, it is currently not known how complex these loci are. Much less is known regarding the genetic control of sporophytic apomixis but initial studies suggest a complex genetic control. Genetic analyses of sexual reproduction in plant model systems have identified genes that, when mutated, display elements of apomixis. Such studies help in the identification of candidate genes and promoters that can be used for the de novo engineering of apomixis through biotechnology. Molecular genetic studies in apomictic and sexual systems will generate the knowledge necessary for the engineering of conditional apomixis technology. Approaches encouraging collaboration and widespread dissemination of the acquired knowledge will constitute the most innovative route to the development, deployment and acceptance of apomixis technology in agriculture
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