Studies involving mutants of the gene SPATULA indicate that it promotes the growth of carpel margins and of pollen tract tissues derived from them. We show that it encodes a new member of the basic-helix-loop-helix family of transcription factors. SPATULA is expressed in marginal and pollen tract tissues throughout their development confirming its role in regulating their growth. It is also expressed in many other tissues where it may act redundantly to control growth, including the peripheral zone of the shoot apical meristem, and specific tissues within leaves, petals, stamens and roots. Expression in the stomium, funiculus and valve dehiscence zone indicates an additional role in abscission. SPATULA expression does not require the function of the other carpel development genes CRABS CLAW and AGAMOUS, although its expression is repressed in first whorl organs by the A function gene APETALA2. Further, we have shown that disruptions to gynoecial pattern formation seen in ettin mutants can largely be attributed to ectopic SPATULA action. ETTIN's role seems to be to negatively regulate SPATULA expression in abaxial regions of the developing gynoecium. SPATULA is the first basic-helix-loop-helix gene in plants known to play a role in floral organogenesis.
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