Biotech Updates

Research Reveals Secrets of an "Immortal" Plant

August 4, 2021

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and partners cracked the genetic secrets of Welwitschia, a two-leafed plant that thrives in the desert for over 1,000 years. The results of their findings are reported in Nature Communications.

"Most plants develop a leaf, and that's it," said Andrew Leitch, a plant geneticist at the Queen Mary University of London. "This plant can live thousands of years, and it never stops growing. When it does stop growing, it's dead."

The genomic studies revealed that the Welwitschia genome has been shaped by a lineage-specific ancient, whole-genome duplication that happened ~86 million years ago. Then, about 1-2 million years ago, extreme drought stress could have caused bursts of junk DNA activity. As a counterreaction, the Welwitschia genome went through massive epigenetic changes that silenced the junk DNA sequences through DNA methylation. These occurrences, together with other factors, led to a very efficient, low-cost genome of Welwitschia.

These findings on the Welwitschia genome could provide insights on how to breed better crop varieties that can withstand extreme abiotic stress.

Read the original article and the abstract for more details.

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