Expressing the diphtheria toxin A subunit from the HAP2(GCS1) promoter blocks sperm maturation and produces single sperm-like cells capable of fertilization.
After meiosis, the male germline of flowering plants undergoes two mitoses, producing two sperm that are carried within a pollen tube to an ovule. One sperm fuses with the egg to form the zygote and the other fuses with the central cell to form the primary endosperm. The mechanisms that control male germline development and gene expression, and ensure that sperm properly fuse with female gametes are just beginning to be understood. Expression of the potent translation inhibitor, diphtheria toxin A subunit, from the Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) HAP2(GCS1) promoter blocked sperm development before the final cell division, resulting in pollen tubes that carried a single sperm-like cell rather than two sperm. These pollen tubes targeted ovules and fertilized either the egg or the central cell, producing seeds with either endosperm or an embryo, but not both. Endosperm-only seeds significantly outnumbered embryo-only seeds, suggesting that single sperm-like cells preferentially fuse with the central cell. These experiments show that de novo translation is required for completion of sperm development, that the HAP2(GCS1) promoter is very tightly controlled, and that disruption of gene expression can result in male germ cells with a bias for gamete fusion.