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Breakthrough in understanding cell development

30 June 2010

Cell patterns in the root of the Arabidopsis plantCell patterns in the root of the Arabidopsis plant

How do plants and animals end up with right number of cells in all the right places?

For the first time, scientists have gained an insight into how this process is co-ordinated in plants. An international team, including the School of Biosciences and Duke University in the USA, have linked the process of cell division with the way cells acquire their different characteristics.

A protein called Short-root, already known to play a part in determining what cells will become, was also found to control cell division.

The researchers report their findings on July 1 in the journal Nature. The discovery may have implications other animals and improve our understanding of what happens when organs are deformed.

Cell patterns in the root of the Arabidopsis plant

The research team had already studied the molecular-level events that determine how particular cells in plants develop into different types. These events involve Short-root and another protein, Scarecrow.

Researchers also had a good understanding of the factors which allow cells to go through their cycle and divide into two daughter cells. "What was missing was a connection between the two," according to Dr Rosangela Sozzani, a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, North Carolina, who was lead author of the new study.

The research team combined a number of experimental techniques and technologies to produce a dynamic view of the genetic events that Short-root and its partner Scarecrow set into motion within a single type of cell in Arabidopsis plants. They found that at the very same time that cells divide, Short-root and Scarecrow switch on the gene cyclin D6. Cyclin D6 is one of a family of genes that govern cell growth and division.

Professor Jim Murray, who has just been appointed head of the School of Biosciences’ new Molecular Biosciences Research Division, led the Cardiff involvement in the discovery. He said: "Not only does this finding have practical significance to our understanding of how plants develop, this may also be a fundamental process which is relevant to animals as well. For example, we already know that cyclin D6 is present in humans. We also know that disruption of this process can lead to tumours or badly-formed organs, so it is vital that we know more about it."

The research at Cardiff was funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council grant and the European Research Area in Plant Genomics network on Plant Stem Cells.

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