Pollen killer genes disable noncarrier pollens, and are responsible for male sterility and segregation distortion in hybrid populations of distantly related plant species. The genetic networks and the molecular mechanisms underlying the pollen killer system remain largely unknown. Two pollen killer genes, S24 and S35, have been found in an intersubspecific cross of Oryza sativa ssp. indica and japonica. The effect of S24 is counteracted by an unlinked locus EFS. Additionally, S35 has been proposed to interact with S24 to induce pollen sterility. These genetic interactions are suggestive of a single S24-centric genetic pathway (EFS-S24-S35) for the pollen killer system. To examine this hypothetical genetic pathway, the S35 and the S24 regions were further characterized and genetically dissected in this study. Our results indicated that S35 causes pollen sterility independently of both the EFS and S24 genes, but is dependent on a novel gene close to the S24 locus, named incentive for killing pollen (INK). We confirmed the phenotypic effect of the INK gene separately from the S24 gene, and identified the INK locus within an interval of less than 0.6 Mb on rice chromosome 5. This study characterized the genetic effect of the two independent genetic pathways of INK-S35 and EFS-S24 in indica-japonica hybrid progeny. Our results provide clear evidence that hybrid male sterility in rice is caused by several pollen killer networks with multiple factors positively and negatively regulating pollen killer genes.
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