The evolution of double fertilization and endosperm: an ”historical” perspective
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One hundred years ago, the developmental origin of endosperm from double fertilization was discovered independently by Navashin and Guignard. For much of the twentieth century, specific events related to the evolutionary origin of the endosperm of flowering plants remained a mystery. However, during the past 20 years, advances in phylogenetic reconstruction of seed plants, genetic theory associated with kin selection, and comparative study of the reproductive biology of the closest living relatives of angiosperms (Gnetales) have advanced our understanding of the evolutionary events associated with the origin of double fertilization and endosperm. Recent developmental analyses of Ephedra and Gnetum (members of Gnetales) indicate that these nonflowering seed plants undergo a regular process of double fertilization that yields two diploid zygotes. Use of explicit genetic and developmental criteria for analysis of evolutionary homology demonstrates congruence with the hypothesis that double fertilization processes in Gnetales and angiosperms were inherited from a common ancestor of the two lineages. In its rudimentary form, the second fertilization event in the ancestors of flowering plants yielded a supernumerary diploid embryo that was genetically identical to the normal embryo, a process most similar to what occurs in extant Ephedra. Subsequent to the divergence of the angiosperm stem lineage, the supernumerary embryo derived from double fertilization was developmentally modified into an embryo-nourishing structure, endosperm, that now characterizes angiosperms.
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