Key steps in the evolution of the angiosperm anther include the patterning of the concentrically organized microsporangium and the incorporation of four such microsporangia into a leaf-like structure. Mutant studies in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana are leading to an increasingly accurate picture of (i) the cell lineages culminating in the different cell types present in the microsporangium (the microsporocytes, the tapetum, and the middle and endothecial layers), and (ii) some of the genes responsible for specifying their fates. However, the processes that confer polarity on the developing anther and position the microsporangia within it remain unclear. Certainly, data from a range of experimental strategies suggest that hormones play a central role in establishing polarity and the patterning of the anther initial, and may be responsible for locating the microsporangia. But the fact that microsporangia were originally positioned externally suggests that their development is likely to be autonomous, perhaps with the reproductive cells generating signals controlling the growth and division of the investing anther epidermis. These possibilities are discussed in the context of the expression of genes which initiate and maintain male and female reproductive development, and in the perspective of our current views of anther evolution.

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