Somatic embryogenesis is a form of induced plant cell totipotency where embryos develop from somatic or vegetative cells in the absence of fertilization. Somatic embryogenesis can be induced in vitro by exposing explants to stress or growth regulator treatments. Molecular genetics studies have also shown that ectopic expression of specific embryo- and meristem-expressed transcription factors or loss of certain chromatin-modifying proteins induces spontaneous somatic embryogenesis. We begin this review with a general description of the major developmental events that define plant somatic embryogenesis and then focus on the transcriptional regulation of this process in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana (arabidopsis). We describe the different somatic embryogenesis systems developed for arabidopsis and discuss the roles of transcription factors and chromatin modifications in this process. We describe how these somatic embryogenesis factors are interconnected and how their pathways converge at the level of hormones. Furthermore, the similarities between the developmental pathways in hormone- and transcription-factor-induced tissue culture systems are reviewed in the light of our recent findings on the somatic embryo-inducing transcription factor BABY BOOM.
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