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Plants Sacrifice 'Daughters' to Survive Chilly Weather

20:00 EDT 26 Jun 2017 | Meridian Institute

Researchers at the National University of Singapore have found that some plants may selectively kill part of their roots in an effort to withstand chilling stress. Temperature has been shown to induce damage in the DNA of plant cells, but is effects on plant stem cell behavior and activity are not well understood. "The study of plant roots has been largely neglected by agricultural researchers in crop improvement until recently. Examining roots is important as they serve as the major interface between a plant and its soil environment, and are responsible for water and nutrient uptake - both resources which are critical for a plant's survival," said Xu Jian, an assistant professor at the Centre for BioImaging Sciences at NUS. The team found that a chilling temperature of four degrees Celsius led to DNA damage in root stem cells of the model plant Arabidopsis, but only the columella stem cell daughters die preferentially. The death of these daughters allows maintenance of a functional stem cell niche. "Our discovery of how the Arabidopsis plant slays its columella stem cell daughters shed light on the plant's unique strategy to survive harsh weather conditions, and demonstrates that the potential of engineering cold tolerance in plants to help them withstand harsh environmental conditions. The ability to do so will certainly allow farmers to extend the growing season of crops and the land area in which to grow them, increasing both yield stability and production capacity," added Xu. The team’s work was published in the journal Cell.

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