A species-specific functional module controls formation of pollen apertures


Pollen apertures are an interesting model for the formation of specialized plasma-membrane domains. The plant-specific protein INP1 serves as a key aperture factor in such distantly related species as Arabidopsis, rice and maize. Although INP1 orthologues probably play similar roles throughout flowering plants, they show substantial sequence divergence and often cannot substitute for each other, suggesting that INP1 might require species-specific partners. Here, we present a new aperture factor, INP2, which satisfies the criteria for being a species-specific partner for INP1. Both INP proteins display similar structural features, including the plant-specific DOG1 domain, similar patterns of expression and mutant phenotypes, as well as signs of co-evolution. These proteins interact with each other in a species-specific manner and can restore apertures in a heterologous system when both are expressed but not when expressed individually. Our findings suggest that the INP proteins form a species-specific functional module that underlies formation of pollen apertures.