Biotech Updates

Plant Stem Cells Commit Suicide To Prevent Genetic Damage

November 20, 2009

Plants have evolved a multitude of ways to protect themselves from the harsh environment, including the closure of stomata to limit water loss during drought or the emission of defense compounds during herbivore attack. They have also developed molecular mechanisms to minimize the damages caused by environmental stresses. One such mechanism was discovered recently by researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK. The scientists found that the growing tips of plant roots and shoots, the plant stem cells, have a built-in mechanism that, if it detects damage to the DNA, causes the cell to commit suicide rather than pass on its defective DNA. Any defect that arises in the stem cell's genetic code will be passed on and persist irreversibly throughout the life of the plant, which may last thousands of years.

The same system operates in animals, according the researchers, and failure of this system leads to cancer. The discovery of a similar, although distinct system in plants is therefore of great interest in the field of plant development, as well as in the efforts of scientists to develop plants better able to cope with environmental stress.

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