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Plant Stem Cell Pathways A Way to Greater Yields!

May 17, 2016

Bioscience Technology magazine (May 16, 2016 article by Bevin Fletcher) is reporting an exciting new discovery: the growth-regulating pathway of plant stem cells! The hope is that food crop yields may be able to nearly double once scientists focus on manipulating the way plant stem cells regulate plant growth.

The article describes the work of Dr. David Jackson and his colleagues at New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory that unlocked the mystery plaguing plant researchers for years. Scientists knew that some signal from plant leaves traveled to the plant stem cells to control them. But they had no idea what gene accomplished that task. Now they do: Genes FEA3 and FCP1.

Scientists identified FCP1 a decade ago. Until now they had no idea what it does.

The delay between theory, discovery and unraveling the function of stem cells is a common theme throughout the history of stem cell research in both plants and animals. German biologist, Ernst Haeckel first used the term “stem cell” in 1868 to describe a single cell organism he believed that acted as the ancestor to all living things. Eighteen years later, William Segwick labeled the parts of plants that grow and regenerate “stem cells.” In 1978, stem cells were discovered in human umbilical cord blood. Although predicted in 1855 by pathologist Rudolf Virchow, proof of cancer stem cells was not found until 1994.

The Cold Spring Harbor research team determined that FCP1 is the small peptide “signal” that binds to the FEA3 receptor directing the plant’s growth. Dr. Jackson and his colleagues also discovered alleles or variants of the two genes.

Working with corn, they managed to find a way to “up-regulate” stem cell growth causing the production of more stem cells with up to 50 percent increase in yield. Of equal importance they found the same phenomenon in Arabidopsis, a plant vastly different from corn but commonly used by botanists as a “model” for plant studies. From that they postulated that the pathway should be common to all plants.

The next step is to see if the amazing increase in laboratory-based crop yield can be duplicated in the real life drama known as dirt farming and can truly deliver a quantum leap increasing world food production.

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