The evolution of seeds is one of the most dramatic innovations during land plant evolution and contributed to the evolutionary success of angiosperms. A seed consists of an embryo surrounded by the endosperm and a maternally derived seed coat. The endosperm of many crop species like maize, rice and wheat is the major source of human nutrition and animal feed; therefore, unraveling the processes governing endosperm development is of crucial importance. The endosperm is essential for embryo development and a major determinant for seed growth. Importantly, the endosperm is also establishing hybridization barriers between related species, for reasons that we aim to understand. We have revealed that endosperm-based hybridization barriers have an epigenetic basis, build by transposable element-derived small RNAs generated in pollen. We aim at understanding how these small RNAs are generated and how do they act. We furthermore like to develop tools allowing to overcome hybridization barriers to ease plant breeding.
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