Sense and sensibility to sex and sustainability

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International Congress on Sexual Plant Reproduction
International Congress on Sexual Plant Reproduction

Two-thirds of the energy in the food we eat comes from seeds – including wheat, rice, maize, oilseeds – and their associated storage structures as fruits. Without seeds, the direct product of sexual reproduction. providing packaged, high-energy, nutrient-rich, transportable and storable structures, life as we know it would be impossible. This week, many researchers from the plant reproduction research community have met in Bristol, UK, to discuss the mechanisms of reproduction, from the development of the flowers and production of the gametes, through to pollination and fertilization and on to endosperm and seed development. Hugh Dickinson, chairman of the not-for-profit charity that owns Annals of Botany, provided the title of my blog in his opening talk, and emphasized the contribution of plant reproduction – and the exploitation of diversity by plants and plant breeders – to sustainability. Moving on to his own research, Hugh emphasized the remarkable epigenetic effects which are so conspicuous during the reproductive development of plants – a theme building on his papers “When Genomes Collide: Aberrant Seed Development Following Maize Interploidy Crosses” (doi:10.1093/aob/mcn017) and a pair of review articles, “Epigenetics and its Implications for Plant Biology 2. The ‘Epigenetic Epiphany’: Epigenetics, Evolution and Beyond” (doi: 10.1093/aob/mcj001) with another speaker at the meeting, Robert Grant-Downton. I really don’t know how to give a flavour of all the exciting research presented, but Annals of Botany and Journal of Experimental Botany were major sponsors of the conference and will produce special issues early next year which will include both reviews and primary research papers on the theme of sexual plant reproduction. Meanwhile, I can’t help pointing towards one more article which underpins the genomics and transcriptomics that we saw at the conference – both authors, Jörg D. Becker and José A. Feijó, from the Gulbenkian Institute in Portugal, build on their paper “How Many Genes are Needed to Make a Pollen Tube? Lessons from Transcriptomics” (doi:10.1093/aob/mcm208).

Do look out for the Special Issues, all to be previewed on this AoBBlog, and the Annals one will be available free in print to people working the field who request a copy.


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