• sterols;
  • embryogenesis;
  • Arabidopsis;
  • GC–MS;
  • 15-azasterol;
  • brassinosteroids.


The sterol biosynthesis pathway of Arabidopsis produces a large set of structurally related phytosterols including sitosterol and campesterol, the latter being the precursor of the brassinosteroids (BRs). While BRs are implicated as phytohormones in post-embryonic growth, the functions of other types of steroid molecules are not clear. Characterization of the fackel (fk) mutants provided the first hint that sterols play a role in plant embryogenesis. FK encodes a sterol C-14 reductase that acts upstream of all known enzymatic steps corresponding to BR biosynthesis mutants. Here we report that genetic screens for fk-like seedling and embryonic phenotypes have identified two additional genes coding for sterol biosynthesis enzymes: CEPHALOPOD (CPH), a C-24 sterol methyl transferase, and HYDRA1 (HYD1), a sterol C-8,7 isomerase. We describe genetic interactions between cph, hyd1 and fk, and studies with 15-azasterol, an inhibitor of sterol C-14 reductase. Our experiments reveal that FK and HYD1 act sequentially, whereas CPH acts independently of these genes to produce essential sterols. Similar experiments indicate that the BR biosynthesis gene DWF1 acts independently of FK, whereas BR receptor gene BRI1 acts downstream of FK to promote post-embryonic growth. We found embryonic patterning defects in cph mutants and describe a GC–MS analysis of cph tissues which suggests that steroid molecules in addition to BRs play critical roles during plant embryogenesis. Taken together, our results imply that the sterol biosynthesis pathway is not a simple linear pathway but a complex network of enzymes that produce essential steroid molecules for plant growth and development.