Issue Date: October 27, 2014
Climbing Fern’s Sex Chemistry Exposed
Scientists have deciphered how communities of Japanese climbing ferns keep their sex ratios in optimal balance by a chemical signaling pathway that controls the development of male plants (Science 2014, DOI: 10.1126/science.1259923). Most ferns produce androgynous gametophytes—which can produce male and female sex organs—as well as gametophytes that produce only male sex organs. Scientists have known that compounds known as antheridiogens can control the development of male sex organs. Makoto Matsuoka of Japan’s Nagoya University and colleagues have now discovered that those ferns that mature early produce high levels of enzymes that synthesize the antheridiogen pheromone known as gibberellin A9 methyl ester (GA9-Me). But the process stops there in those ferns, and they become females. The GA9-Me that seeps out into the environment is taken up by late-maturing ferns. The late bloomers, it turns out, produce more key enzymes that demethylate GA9-Me to GA4, which spurs the development of male sex organs and thus male plants.
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