Nurse cell–derived small RNAs define paternal epigenetic inheritance in Arabidopsis.

The plant male germline undergoes DNA methylation reprogramming, which methylates genes de novo and thereby alters gene expression and regulates meiosis. Here, we reveal the molecular mechanism underlying this reprogramming. We demonstrate that genic methylation in the male germline, from meiocytes to sperm, is established by 24-nucleotide small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) transcribed from transposons with imperfect sequence homology. These siRNAs are synthesized by meiocyte nurse cells (tapetum) through activity of CLSY3, a chromatin remodeler absent in other anther cells. Tapetal siRNAs govern germline methylation throughout the genome, including the inherited methylation patterns in sperm. Tapetum-derived siRNAs also silence germline transposons, safeguarding genome integrity. Our results reveal that tapetal siRNAs are sufficient to reconstitute germline methylation patterns and drive functional methylation reprogramming throughout the male germline.