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Can plants be altruistic? You bet, says new CU-Boulder-led study
Date:2/1/2013

enefactor is a close relative of the beneficiary. When the endosperm gives all of its food to the embryo and then dies, it doesn't get more altruistic than that."

In corn reproduction, male flowers at the top of the plants distribute pollen grains two at a time through individual tubes to tiny cobs on the stalks covered by strands known as silks in a process known as double fertilization. When the two pollen grains come in contact with an individual silk, they produce a seed containing an embryo and endosperm. Each embryo results in just a single kernel of corn, said Diggle.

The team took advantage of an extremely rare phenomenon in plants called "hetero-fertilization," in which two different fathers sire individual corn kernels, said Diggle, currently a visiting professor at Harvard. The manipulation of corn plant genes that has been going on for millennia -- resulting in the production of multicolored "Indian corn" cobs of various colors like red, purple, blue and yellow -- helped the researchers in assessing the parentage of the kernels, she said.

Wu, who cultivated the corn and harvested more than 100 ears over a three-year period, removed, mapped and weighed every individual kernel out of each cob from the harvests. While the majority of kernels had an endosperm and embryo of the same color -- an indication they shared the same mother and father -- some had different colors for each, such as a purple outer kernel with yellow embryo.

Wu was searching for such rare kernels -- far less than one in 100 -- that had two different fathers as a way to assess cooperation between the embryo and endosperm. "It was very challenging and time-consuming research," said Friedman. "It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, or in this case, a kernel in a silo."

Endosperm -- in the form of corn, rice, wheat and other crops -- is critical to humans, providing about 70 percent of calories we consume annually worldwide. "The tis
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Contact: Pamela Diggle
pamela.diggle@colorado.edu
303-550-3065
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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