Polyspermy barriers in plants: from preventing to promoting fertilization

Melissa Spielman, Rod J Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (SciVal)


Barriers to polyspermy (fertilization of a female gamete by more than one sperm) are essential to successful reproduction in a wide range of organisms including mammals, echinoderms, fish, molluscs, and algae. In animals and fucoid algae, polyspermy results in early death of the zygote due to transmission of extra centrioles from the sperm and consequent disruptions to the mitotic spindle. Accordingly, a variety of mechanisms have evolved to prevent penetration of an egg by more than one sperm, or more than one sperm nucleus from fusing with an egg nucleus. The evolution of internal fertilization has also provided an opportunity to limit the number of sperm that gain access to each egg, as occurs in the mammalian female reproductive tract. Polyspermy and polyspermy barriers in plants have received much less attention. Plants lack centrioles and therefore, polyspermy would not be expected to cause lethal aberrant spindle organization. However, we find evidence from cytological, genetic and in vitro fertilization studies for polyspermy barriers in plants. Angiosperms, like mammals, are internally fertilized, and exert a high level of control over the number of sperm that have access to each female gamete. In particular, regulation of pollen tube growth ensures that in general only two sperm enter each embryo sac, where one fertilizes the egg and the other the central cell. Despite this 1:1 ratio of sperm to gametes within the embryo sac, angiosperms still require a mechanism to ensure that each female gamete is fertilized by one and only one sperm. Here, we present evidence suggesting that a polyspermy block on the egg may be part of the mechanism that promotes faithful double fertilization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-65
Number of pages13
JournalSexual Plant Reproduction
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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