F-actin associated proteins implicate new mechanisms involved in SI-PCD

Project: Externally funded research

Project Details


Self-incompatibility (SI) is an important mechanism used by flowering plants to prevent self-fertilization, which would otherwise result in undesirable inbreeding and loss of plant fitness. For this reason, SI has made a significant contribution to the evolutionary success of flowering plants. After pollination, SI utilizes cell-cell recognition to prevent self-fertilization by inhibition of pollen tube growth, which is crucial for the delivery of sperm cells to the egg cell inside the pistil. This involves a highly specific interaction between a pistil-expressed protein and a cognate pollen protein that results in recognition and inhibition of genetically identical or self- (incompatible) pollen, but not cross (compatible) pollen. In Papaver rhoeas (field poppy), the stigma of the pistil secretes a small protein (PrsS) which acts as a signalling "ligand". Upon pollination, PrsS interacts specifically with "self" pollen expressing the SI receptor (PrpS), allowing pollen to distinguish between "self" and "non-self" female partners. This interaction is the critical step in cell-cell recognition and determining acceptance or rejection which triggers a complex network of signalling in the incompatible pollen and results in pollen being inhibited and "told" to commit suicide: "Programmed Cell Death" (PCD).

PCD is essential for a range of processes in all higher organisms. It is vital for normal plant development, playing a decisive role in the life cycle of plants, including fertilisation, embryo development, and rejection of self-pollen. They all depend on tightly controlled and executed PCD. The scientists involved have played a pioneering role in our understanding of plant PCD. Major breakthroughs have come from establishing that key core components of animal PCD machinery are similar to those in plants. However, our understanding of the detailed molecular regulation and downstream processes of plant PCD are still largely unknown and lag behind that of PCD in animal cells.

We have made several recent breakthroughs in our PCD studies in Papaver SI that form the basis of this project. SI triggers dramatic changes of the actin cytoskeleton, an internal protein structure that helps a cell with shape, support, and movement. We recently discovered that SI leads to dramatic acidification of the cell content (cytosol). Other recent findings suggest the involvement of a special type of endocytosis, a process by which cells absorb molecules. This project will carry out the first live-cell imaging studies to discover exactly what happens to the actin cytoskeleton during SI. Other studies, using genetics, microscopy and biochemistry will investigate exactly how these different processes mechanistically control SI-induced PCD.

These fundamental studies are likely to generate excitement in the scientific community as they will provide important mechanistic insights into the role of actin in SI-PCD and the role of [pH]cyt in mediating this. Identifying links between some of these processes will be completely novel for plant cells. Analyzing key molecular mechanisms involved in regulating SI-PCD will be important for our general understanding of evolutionary conservation of PCD.

On a practical note, understanding the mechanisms involved in SI-PCD can lead to applications useful to plant breeding. Fertility and seed set are critical for crop yield and thus Food Security. The transfer of SI-PCD traits into food crops could potentially help plant breeders develop F1 hybrid seeds, which produce bigger and more productive F1 hybrid plants, more efficiently and economically. Currently, hand-emasculation is used to produce F1 hybrid seeds, which is time-consuming and expensive. Introducing SI-PCD into a crop species allows it to be crossed without any emasculation, as no self-pollen can fertilize these plants. Thus, utilization of knowledge on SI-PCD provides a potential alternative means to breed F1 hybrid crops.
Effective start/end date11 Sept 201710 Dec 2020


  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/P005489/1): £480,789.41

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger


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