Protecting the future: How plant stem cells guard against genetic damage

Nov 16, 2009
This is a confocal laser scanning micrograph of an Arabidopsis root tip in which the cell outlines are marked in green by a fluorescent protein. The orange region marks stem cells that died after treatment with a drug that damages DNA. Credit: John Innes Centre

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, have shown how plants can protect themselves against genetic damage caused by environmental stresses. The growing tips of plant roots and shoots have an in-built mechanism that, if it detects damage to the DNA, causes the cell to 'commit suicide' rather than pass on its defective DNA.

Plants have, at the very tips of their roots and shoots, small populations of , through which they are able to grow and produce new tissue throughout the plant's life. These stem cells are the precursors to producing plant tissues and organs. This means that any defect that arises in the stem cell's will be passed on and persist irreversibly throughout the life of the plant, which may last thousands of years.

It is therefore critical that there are safeguards that prevent stem cell defects becoming fixed, particularly as the stem cells exist at the growing tips of shoots and roots where they are especially exposed to potentially hazardous environments.

Nick Fulcher and Robert Sablowski, with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), set out to discover what these safeguards could be. By using X-rays and chemicals they were able to induce damage to DNA, and found that stem cells were much more sensitive to damage than other cells. The cells are able to detect the , triggering the death of these cells, thus preventing the damaged genetic code becoming fixed in the rest of the plant tissues.

A similar system exists in animal cells, which has been very well investigated, as the failure of this system can lead 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. Drought, high salinity and the accumulation of hazardous chemicals in the soil are side-effects of a changing climate, so knowledge of how cope with theses stresses is of fundamental importance to agricultural science's response to climate change. This is one aim of the research carried out by the John Innes Centre, an institute of the BBSRC.

Source: Norwich BioScience Institutes

Explore further: Researchers capture picture of microRNA in action

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists find stem cell switch

Jul 26, 2007

Scientists have discovered how plant stem cells in roots detect soil structure and whether it is favourable for growth.

DNA damage to stem cells is central to ageing

Jun 08, 2007

DNA damage is a major mechanism behind the loss of adult stem cells over time, according to a Nature paper by Oxford University researchers and international colleagues.

Origin of root offshoots revealed

Oct 23, 2008

VIB researchers at Ghent University (Belgium) have discovered the substance that governs the formation of root offshoots in plants, and how it works. Root offshoots are vitally important for plants – and for farmers. Plants ...

Recommended for you

Researchers capture picture of microRNA in action

13 hours ago

Biologists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have described the atomic-level workings of "microRNA" molecules, which control the expression of genes in all animals and plants.

Blocking a fork in the road to DNA replication

15 hours ago

A team of Whitehead Institute scientists has discovered the surprising manner in which an enigmatic protein known as SUUR acts to control gene copy number during DNA replication. It's a finding that could shed new light on ...

Cell division, minus the cells

18 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The process of cell division is central to life. The last stage, when two daughter cells split from each other, has fascinated scientists since the dawn of cell biology in the Victorian era. ...

A new method simplifies the analysis of RNA structure

18 hours ago

To understand the function of an RNA molecule, similar to the better-known DNA and vital for cell metabolism, we need to know its three-dimensional structure. Unfortunately, establishing the shape of an RNA ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.