Stem cells in plants and animals behave surprisingly similarly

May 12, 2017, Lund University

A new study from Lund University in Sweden shows that the behaviour of stem cells in plants and animals is surprisingly similar. The researchers were able to produce mathematical equations that reveal very small differences in the behaviour of the proteins. The results can hopefully be used in stem cell research involving humans.

"The plant and animal kingdoms were separated through evolution more than 1.6 billion years ago. It is surprising that the interactions between the handful of key genes that control the fate of each stem cell are so similar in both cases", says Carsten Peterson, professor at the Faculty of Science at Lund University.

Carsten Peterson is one of the researchers behind the recent study on differences and similarities between animal and plant . With a background in theoretical physics, he and his colleagues have tackled the stem cells from a different perspective, which proved successful.

By formulating mathematical equations, the researchers have performed a detailed study of the proteins that are central to the stem cells in mammals and plants. The proteins are linked to the genes that control the stem cells. In particular, the researchers have studied how these proteins mutually affect one another through interaction as the cells evolve.

"Although the proteins in mammalian and plant stem cells are very different when studied separately, there are major similarities in the ways in which they interact, that is, how they strengthen or weaken each other", says Carsten Peterson.

Stem cells are a hot topic in medical contexts, especially when it comes to cancer and autoimmune diseases. A stem cell is capable of evolving into several different types of cells and is thus a sort of mother cell to all of the body's specialised cell types. In animals, these specialised cells can never return to a stem cell state on their own. In plants, however, they can.

"Specialised cells of plants can return to being stem cells without external manipulation. In the plant world, there is a natural reprogramming process", says Carsten Peterson.

The show that very small differences are sufficient to explain why plant cells are so flexible while cells of mammals require artificial reprogramming to return to a stem cell state.

"When cells are influenced externally – artificially for animals or naturally for plants – the minor differences in interaction play a greater role, and the differences appear to be of greater significance", says Carsten Peterson.

He believes that a lot of work remains with regard to the efficiency of reprogramming of and therefore hopes that insights from the plant world can contribute. The current study provides clues about why it is so much easier to make a cell go back to being a stem cell in compared to mammals.

Reprogramming is a frequently used word in stem cell contexts today, ever since the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 2012. One of the prize winners, Shinya Yamanaka, had demonstrated how to externally manipulate to return to an embryonic stem cell state by increasing the concentration of certain proteins. Turning back the clock this way has enormous potential in clinical contexts. For example, on an individual basis, can be reprogrammed into , and be made into desired cell types by manipulating certain proteins. This process is known as regenerative medicine.

The study was recently published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Explore further: Study shows adipose stem cells may be the cell of choice for therapeutic applications

More information: Victor Olariu et al. Different reprogramming propensities in plants and mammals: Are small variations in the core network wirings responsible?, PLOS ONE (2017). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0175251

Related Stories

The origin of stem cells

February 8, 2017

Freiburg plant biologist Prof. Dr. Thomas Laux and his research group have published an article in the journal Developmental Cell presenting initial findings on how shoot stem cells in plants form during embryogenesis, the ...

Gene key for chemically reprogramming human stem cells

January 26, 2017

Scientists have discovered the gene essential for chemically reprogramming human amniotic stem cells into a more versatile state similar to embryonic stem cells, in research led by UCL and Heinrich Heine University.

Gene "bookmarking" regulates the fate of stem cells

December 7, 2016

A protein that stays attached on chromosomes during cell division plays a critical role in determining the type of cell that stem cells can become. The discovery, made by EPFL scientists, has significant implications for ...

Biologists find how plants reconstitute stem cells

May 19, 2016

Stem cells are typically thought to have the intrinsic ability to generate or replace specialized cells. However, a team of biologists at NYU showed that regenerating plants can naturally reconstitute their stem cells from ...

Recommended for you

Earth's deep mantle flows dynamically

March 25, 2019

As ancient ocean floors plunge over 1,000 km into the Earth's deep interior, they cause hot rock in the lower mantle to flow much more dynamically than previously thought, finds a new UCL-led study.

Scientists solve mystery shrouding oldest animal fossils

March 25, 2019

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) have discovered that 558 million-year-old Dickinsonia fossils do not reveal all of the features of the earliest known animals, which potentially had mouths and guts.


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.