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  1. Synopsis

    How did plant sexuality come to so hauntingly resemble human sexual formations? How did plant biology come to theorize plant sexuality with binary formulations of male/female, sex/gender, sperm/egg, active males and passive females—all of which resemble western categories of sex, gender, and sexuality? Tracing the extant language of sex and sexuality in plant reproductive biology, we examine the histories of science to explore how plant reproductive biology emerged historically from formations of colonial racial and sexual politics and how evolutionary biology was premised on the imaginations of racialized heterosexual romance. Drawing on key examples, the paper aims to (un)read plant sexuality and sexual anatomy and bodies to imagine new possibilities for plant sex, sexualities, and their relationalities. In short, plant sex and sexuality are not two different objects of inquiry but are intimately related—it is their inter-relation that is the focus of this essay. One of the key impulses from the humanities that we bring to this essay is a careful consideration of how terms and terminologies are related to each other historically and culturally. In anthropomorphizing plants, if plant sexuality were modeled on human sexual formations, might a re-imagination of plant sexuality open new vistas for the biological sciences? While our definitions of plant sexuality will always be informed by contemporary society and culture, interrogating the histories of our theories and terminologies can help us reimagine a biology that allows for new and more accurate understandings of plants, plant biology, and the evolution of reproduction.

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  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2024
  3. Every spring, something seemingly miraculous happens in the woods in certain parts of the world—thousands of leaves burst from buds on bare tree branches, transforming the landscape from the browns and grays of winter to the bright greens of spring and summer. Although this process is most obvious in regions with drastic seasonal changes, seed plants all over the world regularly produce and lose leaves as they grow. How does this happen? Where do these leaves come from? The cells that make up these leaves are produced by a tiny cluster of cells called the shoot apical meristem. The cells in the shoot apical meristem have the potential to develop into various kinds of cells. Through cell division, meristem cells eventually produce all the above-ground parts of a plant, including leaves. In this article, we explain how meristems function and highlight how these tiny clusters of cells impact our day-to-day lives. We will also provide suggestions for observing meristems at work. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 17, 2024
  4. Grass inflorescence branching involves the integration of competing signals that regulate leaf and meristem growth. 
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  5. Carpels in maize undergo programmed cell death in half of the flowers initiated in ears and in all flowers in tassels. The HD-ZIP I transcription factor gene GRASSY TILLERS1 ( GT1 ) is one of only a few genes known to regulate this process. To identify additional regulators of carpel suppression, we performed a gt1 enhancer screen and found a genetic interaction between gt1 and ramosa3 ( ra3 ). RA3 is a classic inflorescence meristem determinacy gene that encodes a trehalose-6-phosphate (T6P) phosphatase (TPP). Dissection of floral development revealed that ra3 single mutants have partially derepressed carpels, whereas gt1 ; ra3 double mutants have completely derepressed carpels. Surprisingly, gt1 suppresses ra3 inflorescence branching, revealing a role for gt1 in meristem determinacy. Supporting these genetic interactions, GT1 and RA3 proteins colocalize to carpel nuclei in developing flowers. Global expression profiling revealed common genes misregulated in single and double mutant flowers, as well as in derepressed gt1 axillary meristems. Indeed, we found that ra3 enhances gt1 vegetative branching, similar to the roles for the trehalose pathway and GT1 homologs in the eudicots. This functional conservation over ∼160 million years of evolution reveals ancient roles for GT1 -like genes and the trehalose pathway in regulating axillary meristem suppression, later recruited to mediate carpel suppression. Our findings expose hidden pleiotropy of classic maize genes and show how an ancient developmental program was redeployed to sculpt floral form. 
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  6. Summary

    The evolutionary modification of development was fundamental in generating extant plant diversity. Similarly, the modification of development is a path forward to engineering the plants of the future, provided we know enough about what to modify. Understanding how extant diversity was generated will reveal productive pathways forward for modifying development. Here, I discuss four examples of developmental pathways that have been remodeled by changes to protein–protein interactions. These are cases where changes to developmental pathways have been paralleled by recent changes, selected for or engineered by humans. Extant plant diversity represents a vast treasure trove of molecular solutions to ecological problems. Mining this treasure trove will allow for the intentional modification of plant development for solving future problems.

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  7. This article is a Commentary onYuet al.(2020),225: 1799–1815.

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