In intraspecific crosses between cultivated rice (Oryza sativa) subspecies indica and japonica, the hybrid male sterility gene S24 causes the selective abortion of male gametes carrying the japonica allele (S24-j) via an allelic interaction in the heterozygous hybrids. In this study, we first examined whether male sterility is due solely to the single locus S24. An analysis of near-isogenic lines (NIL-F1) showed different phenotypes for S24 in different genetic backgrounds. The S24 heterozygote with the japonica genetic background showed male semisterility, but no sterility was found in heterozygotes with the indica background. This result indicates that S24 is regulated epistatically. A QTL analysis of a BC2F1 population revealed a novel sterility locus that interacts with S24 and is found on rice chromosome 2. The locus was named Epistatic Factor for S24 (EFS). Further genetic analyses revealed that S24 causes male sterility when in combination with the homozygous japonica EFS allele (efs-j). The results suggest that efs-j is a recessive sporophytic allele, while the indica allele (EFS-i) can dominantly counteract the pollen sterility caused by S24 heterozygosity. In summary, our results demonstrate that an additional epistatic locus is an essential element in the hybrid sterility caused by allelic interaction at a single locus in rice. This finding provides a significant contribution to our understanding of the complex molecular mechanisms underlying hybrid sterility and microsporogenesis.
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