Sexual reproduction is the main reproductive strategy of the overwhelming majority of eukaryotes. This suggests that the last eukaryotic common ancestor was able to reproduce sexually. Sexual reproduction reflects the ability to perform meiosis, and ultimately generating gametes, which are cells that carry recombined half sets of the parental genome and are able to fertilize. These functions have been allocated to a highly specialized cell lineage: the germline. Given its significant evolutionary conservation, it is to be expected that the germline programme shares common molecular bases across extremely divergent eukaryotic species. In the present review, we aim to identify the unifying principles of male germline establishment and development by comparing two very disparate kingdoms: plants and animals. We argue that male meiosis defines two temporally regulated gene expression programmes: the first is required for meiotic commitment, and the second is required for the acquisition of fertilizing ability. Small RNA pathways are a further key communality, ultimately ensuring the epigenetic stability of the information conveyed by the male germline.

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