We have analyzed two mutants that exhibit altered panicle architecture in rice (Oryza sativa L.). In lax1-2, which is a new and stronger allele of the previously reported lax mutant, initiation and/or maintenance of rachis-branches, lateral spikelets, and terminal spikelets was severely prevented. In situ hybridization analysis using OSH1, a rice knotted1 (kn1) ortholog, confirmed the absence of lateral meristems in lax1-2 panicles. These defects indicate that the LAX1 gene is required for the initiation/maintenance of axillary meristems in the rice panicle. In addition to its role in forming lateral meristems, the wild-type LAX1 gene acts as a floral meristem identity gene which specifies the terminal spikelet meristem. A comparison of the defects in lax1-1 and lax1-2 plants suggested that the sensitivities to reduced LAX1 activity were not uniform among different types of meristems. In the fzp2 mutant panicle, the basic branching pattern of the panicle was indistinguishable from that of the wild type; however, specification of both terminal and lateral spikelet meristems was blocked, and sequential rounds of branching occurred at the point where the spikelet meristems are initiated in the wild-type panicle. This resulted in the generation of a panicle composed of excessive ramification of rachis-branches. The lax1-1 fzp2 double mutants exhibited a novel, basically additive, phenotype, which suggests that LAX1 and FZP2 function in genetically independent pathways.
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