Plant cells are surrounded by a cell wall, a rigid structure that is not only important for cell and organ shape, but is also crucial for intercellular communication and interactions with the environment. In the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana, the 17 members of the Catharanthus roseus RLK1-like (CrRLK1L) receptor kinase family are involved in a multitude of physiological and developmental processes, making it difficult to assess their primary or ancestral function. To reduce genetic complexity, we characterized the single CrRLK1L gene of Marchantia polymorpha, MpFERONIA (MpFER). Plants with reduced MpFER levels show defects in vegetative development, i.e. rhizoid formation and cell expansion, and have reduced male fertility. In contrast, cell integrity and morphogenesis of the gametophyte are severely affected in Mpfer null mutants and MpFER overexpression lines. Thus, we conclude that the CrRLK1L gene family originated from a single gene with an ancestral function in cell expansion and the maintenance of cellular integrity. During land plant evolution, this ancestral gene diversified to fulfill a multitude of specialized physiological and developmental roles in the formation of both gametophytic and sporophytic structures essential to the life cycle of flowering plants.

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