Fertilisation in maize (Zea mays), in common with most angiosperms, involves two fusion events: one of the two sperm nuclei unites with the egg cell nucleus, while the other sperm nucleus fuses with the two central cell nuclei giving rise to the triploid endosperm. Since deviation from this nuclear ratio (2:1 maternal/paternal) in the endosperm can result in abortion, it has been suggested that the genomes of the sperm and/or central cell are differentially imprinted during sexual development. By crossing a normal diploid maize line as female with its autotetraploid counterpart, an unbalanced genomic ratio (2:2 maternal/paternal) is created in the endosperm which often results in the eventual abortion of the tissue. Detailed structural comparison of these aberrant endosperms with normal endosperms reveals that the formation of the transfer cell layer, a tissue formed some 8 days after pollination and responsible for the transport of nutrients into the endosperm, is almost completely suppressed under conditions of paternal genomic excess. The first structural analysis of the development of this tissue in normal and aberrant endosperms is reported, and the implications of regulating the formation of such a tissue by gametically imprinted genes are discussed in the light of current theories on the consequences of genomic imbalance on early embryonic development.

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