Menopause in Plants: New Research Shows Mechanism behind Proliferative Arrest

The reproductive cycle in plants has always been an area of fascination to scientists for centuries. It has been a focal point for thousands of studies including the

Arabidopsis Thaliana

Arabidopsis Thaliana. Image Courtesy of Roepers

recent one conducted by a group of researchers at the IBMCB; research that could revolutionize food production and our impact on the environment in general.

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Background of the research

Monocarpic plants are plants with a single cycle of reproduction that have been a focus of research for years and are known to have a flowering stage that precedes reproduction. Although flowering is a prerequisite event for reproduction, another hallmark event required for reproduction is the end of flowering. In several plant species, the cessation of flowering usually occurs following fruiting and is characterized by a stoppage in the cell division in the meristem. This stoppage is what is referred to as plant “menopause” or proliferative arrest and is considered by many to be an evolutionary adaptation that allows the plant to redistribute resources that would have been channeled into new organ formation to seed production which ultimately guarantees the perpetuation of the species.

Even with the economic and environmental benefits of this, very little has been known about the underlying processes of this arrest in proliferation.

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Research and its findings

A group of researchers at the IBMCB including Cristina Ferrandiz Maestre and Paz Merelo, using cellular and applied molecular biology, genetic studies, and image analysis techniques, modeled species of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana and were able to obtain with the aid of cutting edge spacio-temporal resolution, the cellular and molecular steps that initiate the arrest in proliferation.

According to Paz Merelo, to carry out this study, they had to visualize the meristem before the onset of the arrest, when the initial signs of the arrest became obvious and after no visible cell division could be observed in them. She noted that with the aid of fluorescent techniques, they also studied the plant hormones called cytokinins believed to be responsible for plant proliferation. Their findings revealed that the activity of these cytokinins was completely blocked before the arrest. They observed that plants treated with exogenous cytokines did not undergo proliferative arrest.

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Possible applications of this study

This study is groundbreaking because it portends a great future in the field of agro and biotechnology. Further research into this area to deepen our knowledge of all the players involved in the process would ultimately translate into increased agricultural production with its attendant curbing of world hunger. According to Cristina Ferrandiz, more experimental models can be developed that could potentially extend the flowering and fruiting period or slow the proliferative arrest thus increasing the harvest.

Conclusion

Just like in humans, understanding the underlying principles of plant menopause may in the nearest future, provide a lasting solution to food shortage. The study carried out at the IBMCB is only but a stepping stone to further research models that may perfect our understanding of the mechanisms of the arrest which will open the doors to endless possibilities in its application.

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References

A cellular analysis of meristem activity at the end of flowering points to cytokinin as a major regulator of proliferative arrest in Arabidopsis

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