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Pre-Fertilisation: Structures and Events

The Pistil, Megasporangium (ovule) and Embryo sac

The gynoecium represents the female reproductive part of the flower. The gynoecium may consist of a single pistil (monocarpellary) or may have more than one pistil (multicarpellary). When there are more than one, the pistils may be fused together (syncarpous) (Figure 7b) or may be free (apocarpous) (Figure 7c). Each pistil has three parts (Figure 7a), the stigma, style and ovary. The stigma serves as a landing platform for pollen grains. The style is the elongated slender part beneath the stigma. The basal bulged part of the pistil is the ovary. Inside the ovary is the ovarian cavity (locule). The placenta is located inside the ovarian cavity. Arising from the placenta are the megasporangia, commonly called ovules. The number of ovules in an ovary may be one (wheat, paddy, mango) to many (papaya, water melon, orchids).

(a) A dissected flower of Hibiscus showing pistil (other floral parts have been removed); (b) Multicarpellary, syncarpous pistil of Papaver ; (c) A multicarpellary, apocarpous gynoecium of Michelia; (d) A diagrammatic view of a typical anatropous ovule

The Megasporangium (Ovule) : Let us familiarise ourselves with the structure of a typical angiosperm ovule (Figure 7d). The ovule is a small structure attached to the placenta by means of a stalk called funicle.
The body of the ovule fuses with funicle in the region called hilum. Thus, hilum represents the junction between ovule and funicle. Each ovule has one or two protective envelopes called integuments. Integuments encircle the ovule except at the tip where a small opening called the micropyle is organised. Opposite the micropylar end, is the chalaza, representing the basal part of the ovule.
Enclosed within the integuments is a mass of cells called the nucellus. Cells of the nucellus have abundant reserve food materials. Located in the nucellus is the embryo sac or female gametophyte. An ovule generally has a single embryo sac formed from a megaspore through reduction division. Megasporogenesis : The process of formation of megaspores from the megaspore mother cell is called megasporogenesis. Ovules generally differentiate a single megaspore mother cell (MMC) in the micropylar region of the nucellus. It is a large cell containing dense cytoplasm and a prominent nucleus. The MMC undergoes meiotic division. What is the importance of the MMC undergoing meiosis? Meiosis results in the production of four megaspores (Figure 8a).

(a) Parts of the ovule showing a large megaspore mother cell, a dyad and a tetrad of megaspores; (b) 1,2, 4, and 8-nucleate stages of embryo sac and a mature embryo sac; (c) A diagrammatic representation of the mature embryo sac.

Female gametophyte : In a majority of flowering plants, one of the megaspores is functional while the other three degenerate. Only the functional megaspore develops into the female gametophyte (embryo sac). This method of embryo sac formation from a single megaspore is termed monosporic development. What will be the ploidy of the cells of the nucellus, MMC, the functional megaspore and female gametophyte?
Let us study formation of the embryo sac in a little more detail. (Figure 8b). The nucleus of the functional megaspore divides mitotically to form two nuclei which move to the opposite poles, forming the 2-nucleate embryo sac. Two more sequential mitotic nuclear divisions result in the formation of the 4-nucleate and later the 8-nucleate stages of the embryo sac. It is of interest to note that these mitotic divisions are strictly free nuclear, that is, nuclear divisions are not followed immediately by cell wall formation. After the 8-nucleate stage, cell walls are laid down leading to the organisation of the typical female gametophyte or embryo sac. Observe the distribution of cells inside the embryo sac (Figure 8b, c). Six of the eight nuclei are surrounded by cell walls and organised into cells; the remaining two nuclei, called polar nuclei are situated below the egg apparatus in the large central cell.
There is a characteristic distribution of the cells within the embryo sac. Three cells are grouped together at the micropylar end and constitute the egg apparatus. The egg apparatus, in turn, consists of two synergids and one egg cell. The synergids have special cellular thickenings at the micropylar tip called filiform apparatus, which play an important role in guiding the pollen tubes into the synergid. Three cells are at the chalazal end and are called the antipodals. The large central cell, as mentioned earlier, has two polar nuclei. Thus, a typical angiosperm embryo sac, at maturity, though 8-nucleate is 7-celled.

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