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Russian, Singaporean scientists reveal how plants weather cold temperatures

Plants sacrifice their newborn cells of the root tip in order to survive cold temperature conditions and retain their own ‘stem cells’

MOSCOW, June 28. /TASS/ An international research team from Novosibirsk State University (NSU), the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (ICG SB RAS), and the National University of Singapore have identified and analyzed the mechanism enabling plants to adapt to cold temperatures. This breakthrough was announced by NSU’s Computational Transcriptomic and Evolutionary Bioinformatics Laboratory (LCTEB).

It turns out that plants sacrifice their newborn cells of the root tip in order to survive cold temperature conditions and retain their own ‘stem cells.’ The study was published recently in the journal, Cell.

Plants possess stem cells just as animals do, which are the cells located at the tip of roots or sprouts from where any other plant tissues originate. Researchers from Singapore revealed that at a low temperature (+4 °C) the DNA in a plant’s stem cells is damaged which can result in the death of the cells’ offspring. With that, the death of cells inside the root tip has been shown to help other tissues survive and toughen up the plant in such a way that it becomes more resistant to any other types of stress.

"Only a few stem cell daughters die under the chilling stress with the lifespan of these cells being very short also at normal conditions, whereas in contrast other tissues stay untouched," Victoria Mironova, Ph.D. in Biology, the Head of LCTEB at NSU, Chief of the Sector for System Biology of Plant Morphogenesis at RAS Institute of Cytology and Genetics of Siberian Branch, commented.

Computer modeling

Russian scientists addressed the processes occurring at the root’s tip using a mathematical approach. The mechanism which decides on what cells will be sacrificed in order to enable a plant to survive, is controlled by the genes responsible for transmitting auxin, the hormone required for the normal growth of roots.

"The modeling proved that under cold temperature conditions, the concentration of this hormone drops which puts the lifespan of a plant in jeopardy. If the cells at the root tip are destroyed, the concentration of auxin is restored providing for the ‘stem cells’ maintenance,’ Maria Savina, the leading engineer at LCTEB at NSU and a junior research assistant at ICG SB RAS explained.

Application in agriculture

According to the scientists, continued research on this topic might be very beneficial for agriculture. Plants and crops could be treated with auxin prior to the onset of any cold spell. This way, it would be possible to avoid the death of cells and help plants overcome severe temperature stress without resorting to any sacrifices. The study’s results could be also applied in analyzing mammals’ mechanisms for adapting to cold temperatures, since the structure of stem cell niches, their functions and sensitivity to stress have many similarities between animals and plants.