PerspectivePlant Science

One Genome, Two Ontogenies

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Science  01 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6123, pp. 1045-1046
DOI: 10.1126/science.1234992

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The fascination of humans with the notion of multiple personalities (and morphologies) is perhaps best captured in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 tale of the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Land plants have been pulling off this trick for 475 million years, although perhaps to less acclaim. All of the roughly 300,000 extant species of land plants (1) engage in a complex life cycle that alternates between sporophytes (spore-producing organisms) and gametophytes (gamete-producing organisms). Biologists have long pondered how each species of land plant can maintain separate developmental programs that produce fundamentally dissimilar ontogenies and morphologies. On page 1067 of this issue, Sakakibara et al. (2) provide insights into the developmental and evolutionary origins of this alternation of generations.