Pectin is a complex polysaccharide and an integral part of the primary plant cell wall and middle lamella, contributing to cell wall mechanical strength and cell adhesion. To understand the structure-function relationships of pectin in the cell wall, a set of transgenic potato lines with altered pectin composition was analysed. The expression of genes encoding enzymes involved in pectin acetylation, degradation of the rhamnogalacturonan backbone and type and length of neutral side chains, arabinan and galactan in particular, has been altered. Upon crossing of different transgenic lines, some transgenes were not transmitted to the next generation when these lines were used as a pollen donor, suggesting male sterility. Viability of mature pollen was severely decreased in potato lines with reduced pectic arabinan, but not in lines with altered galactan side chains. Anthers and pollen of different developmental stages were microscopically examined to study the phenotype in more detail. Scanning electron microscopy of flowers showed collapsed pollen grains in mature anthers and in earlier stages cytoplasmic protrusions at the site of the of kin pore, eventually leading to bursting of the pollen grain and leaking of the cytoplasm. This phenomenon is only observed after the microspores are released and the tapetum starts to degenerate. Timing of the phenotype indicates a role for pectic arabinan side chains during remodelling of the cell wall when the pollen grain is maturing and dehydrating.
Plant Biotechnology Journal, 2014, Vol 12, Issue 4, p. 492-502