Endosperm Development


Endosperm is a tissue in the seeds of many plants and supports embryonic and seedling growth by providing nutrients stored in its cells. As the stored products, starches, proteins and oils are valuable to humans for nutrition and as industrial materials, endosperm development has been well documented, particularly in cereal plants such as maize, barley and rice. Molecular genetics and genomics analyses have also been widely applied to the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Although the structures and amounts of endosperm within mature seeds vary considerably among plant species, most of the developmental events, such as genetic and epigenetic controls, are conserved.

Key Concepts

  • The programme of endosperm development varies among plant species.
  • In most angiosperm species, seeds have three genetically distinct tissues: maternal diploid seed coat, fertilised diploid embryo and triploid endosperm.
  • Endosperm consists of differentiated tissues that have distinct roles.
  • Roles of parental genomes in the endosperm (2 maternal and 1 paternal) are not equivalent owing to asymmetric epigenetic modifications, similar to those in the mammalian placenta.
  • Hybridisation barrier can be seen in the endosperm.

Keywords: endosperm; seed; angiosperm; reproduction; epigenetics

Figure 1. Endosperm development. The female gametophyte (embryo sac) in the maternal ovule (green) receives the two sperm cells delivered by the pollen tube. One sperm cell fertilises the egg cell and develops into the embryo. The other sperm cell fuses with the central cell to form the syncytial endosperm. After this double fertilisation, the seed develops and consists of an embryo and endosperm surrounded by the integuments of maternal origin (yellow).
Figure 2. Role of persistent endosperm. In cereal plants, the endosperm forms a large part of the seed. During germination, the endosperm provides nutrient support for growth to enable the embryo to produce the shoot and the root.
Figure 3. A simple view of the DNA methylation cycle and imprinted gene expression in A. thaliana. DNA methylation is maintained by the DNA methyltransferases, MET1, during the vegetative life cycle. DNA methylation of the two sperm cells is maintained in the male gametophyte, while it is reduced in the female central cell by the activity of the DNA glycosylase DEMETER, and this action leads to activation of a subset of imprinted genes. This epigenetic activation occurs in the female central cell, while global DNA methylation is maintained in the egg cell; therefore, imprinted gene expression can be seen in the triploid endosperm. Blue and pink bars represent a genomic locus for maternally expressed imprinted gene, such as FWA. The red ‘lollipops’ represent DNA methylation.


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Further Reading

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Tonosaki, Kaoru, and Kinoshita, Tetsu(Jun 2018) Endosperm Development. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020098.pub2]