A fundamental problem in biology is to understand how fertilization initiates reproductive development. Higher plant reproduction is unique because two fertilization events are required for sexual reproduction. First, a sperm must fuse with the egg to form an embryo. A second sperm must then fuse with the adjacent central cell nucleus that replicates to form an endosperm, which is the support tissue required for embryo and/or seedling development. Here, we report cloning of the Arabidopsis FERTILIZATION-INDEPENDENT ENDOSPERM ( FIE ) gene. The FIE protein is a homolog of the WD motif–containing Polycomb proteins from Drosophila and mammals. These proteins function as repressors of homeotic genes. A female gametophyte with a loss-of-function allele of fie undergoes replication of the central cell nucleus and initiates endosperm development without fertilization. These results suggest that the FIE Polycomb protein functions to suppress a critical aspect of early plant reproduction, namely, endosperm development, until fertilization occurs.
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