Zygospore formation in different strains of the Closterium peracerosum-strigosum-littorale complex was examined in this unicellular isogamous charophycean alga to shed light on gametic mating strains in this taxon, which is believed to share a close phylogenetic relationship with land plants. Zygospores typically form as a result of conjugation between mating-type plus (mt(+)) and mating-type minus (mt(-)) cells during sexual reproduction in the heterothallic strain, similar to Chlamydomonas. However, within clonal cells, zygospores are formed within homothallic strains, and the majority of these zygospores originate as a result of conjugation of two recently divided sister gametangial cells derived from one vegetative cell. In this study, we analyzed conjugation of homothallic cells in the presence of phylogenetically closely related heterothallic cells to characterize the reproductive function of homothallic sister gametangial cells. The relative ratio of non-sister zygospores to sister zygospores increased in the presence of heterothallic mt(+) cells, compared with that in the homothallic strain alone and in a coculture with mt(-) cells. Heterothallic cells were surface labeled with calcofluor white, permitting fusions with homothallic cells to be identified and confirming the formation of hybrid zygospores between the homothallic cells and heterothallic mt(+) cells. These results show that at least some of the homothallic gametangial cells possess heterothallic mt(-)-like characters. This finding supports speculation that division of one vegetative cell into two sister gametangial cells is a segregative process capable of producing complementary mating types.
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