Plants produce female gametes through mitotic division in the multicellular, meioticolly reduced (haploid) megagametophyte phase. In flowering plants, the megagametophyte is the embryo sac; female gametogenesis or megagametogenesis comprises the ontogeny of the embryo sac. As a step toward understanding the role of embryo sac-expressed genes in megagametogenesis, development of normal, haploid embryo sacs in maize was compared with development of embryo sacs deficient for various small, cytologically defined chromosomal regions. This analysis allowed us to screen 18% of the maize genome, including most of chromosome arms 1L and 3L, for phenotypes due specifically to deletion of essential, embryo sac-expressed genes. Confocal laser scanning microscopy of whole developing embryo sacs confirmed that normal megagameto-genesis in maize is of the highly stereotyped, bipolar Polygonum type common to most flowering plants examined to date. Deficiency embryo sac phenotypes were grouped into three classes, suggesting each deficient region contained one or more of at least three basic types of haploid-expressed gene functions. In the first group, three chromosome regions contained genes required for progression beyond early, free-nuclear stages of embryo sac development. Maintaining synchrony between events at the two poles of the embryo sac required genes located within two deficiencies. Finally, three chromosome regions harbored loci required for generation of normal cellular patterns typical of megagametogenesis. This analysis demonstrates that the embryo sac first requires postmeiotic gene expression at least as early as the first postmeiotic mitosis. Furthermore, our data show that a variety of distinct, genetically separable programs require embryo sac-expressed gene products during megagametogenesis, and suggest the nature of some of those developmental mechanisms. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.