Stem cells call the shots

Stem cells are critical for the survival of flowering plants. Whether it’s deep-reaching roots, taller stems, or more leaves and flowers that are needed, stem cells produce new cells for the job.

That’s also why having too many or too few stem cells can disrupt a plant’s growth – as this photo shows.

Responsible for all this is a “core genetic circuitry found in all flowering plants”, says Zach Lippman, from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the US.

But, as he and colleague David Jackson explain in a paper published in the journal Nature Genetics, the genetic backup systems employed to protect stem cells can vary drastically from plant to plant.

“We were surprised to see such big differences”, says Jackson, “but in retrospect it reveals the power of evolution in finding novel ways to protect critical developmental circuits.”

The researchers say understanding these species-specific strategies for protecting key genetic interactions will be essential for achieving “intelligent crop design” and using genome editing to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability.

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