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embryo sac[′em·brē·ō ‚sak]
or female gametophyte, the sexual generation of angiospermous plants.
The embryo sac develops in the central portion of the ovule (nucellus), where the maternal macrosporocyte, as a result of meiotic division, forms four haploid cells (a tetrad of macrospores), of which one develops (the rest atrophy). During the development of the embryo sac there are three successive synchronous mitotic divisions of its nuclei, so that their number increases in the progression 1:2:4:8, and they are distributed evenly along the ends of the growing embryo sac. After the third mitotic division, three cells of the egg apparatus are formed at one (micropylar) end of the embryo sac; three antipodal cells are formed at the opposite (chalazal) end. Between these groups of cells a central cell containing two polar nuclei is formed. The cells of the egg apparatus differentiate into an egg cell and two synergids; the polar nuclei in many cases merge, forming a secondary nucleus. The subsequent evolution of this so-called normal type of embryo sac consisted in the emergence of embryo sacs formed by two or four macrospores, reduction of the number of mitotic divisions to two or one, and a change in the distribution of nuclei. Various combinations of these changes caused the emergence of several types of embryo sac, which differ in the number of nuclei (4, 8, 16) and of cell groups and polar nuclei (1, 2, 4, 7–14), as well as in the number of cells in the groups (for example, the egg apparatus may consist of 1, 2, 3, 5, or 7 cells) and in other characteristics. Double fertilization occurs in the mature embryo sac of any type, after which the embryo and the endosperm develop. Formerly, the female gametophyte of gymnosperms was also called an embryo sac; however, it differs in principle from the embryo sac in the development of a massive multicellular gametophyte body and in the formation of archegonia.
REFERENCESMaheshwari, P. Embriologiia pokrytosemennykh. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from English.)
Poddubnaia-Arnol’di, V. A. Obshchaia embriologiia pokrytosemennykh rastenii. Moscow, 1964.
Romanov, I. D. “Zhenskii gametofit pokrytosemennykh rastenii.” In Materialy Vsesoiuznogo simpoziuma po embriologii rastenii. Kiev, 1968.
I. D. ROMANOV