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Calling all plant cells

Internal communication system aids and 
guides plant development, researchers say

The Clasp protein, seen here in an image from an electron microscope, 
helps cells divide within the roots and shoots of the thale cress plant.

Western Canadian researchers have discovered an internal messaging system plants use to manage the growth and division of cells.

These growth-management processes are critical for all organisms, because without them, cells can proliferate out of control — as they do in cancers and bacterial infections.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia, along with colleagues from the universities of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, say plants use this messaging system to survive under harsh conditions or to compete successfully when conditions are favourable.

It tells them when to grow, when to stagnate, when to flower, and when to store resources — all based on the prevailing conditions. Understanding how it all works could enable innovations in agriculture, forestry and conservation as climate change takes hold.

UBC botany professor, Geoffrey Wasteneys says the system is driven by a protein called CLASP. The protein, found in plants, animals and fungi, plays an essential role in cell growth and division by co-ordinating the assembly of filaments within cells.

Their study published in the journal Current Biology reveals that production of CLASP is reduced by a plant-growth hormone called brassinosteroid.

Researchers say the findings could be of particular interest to agriculture as dry conditions have hit several crop-growing regions around the world this year, including the Prairies.

“One of the aims of the future is to be able to have smart plants that can sense their environment and adjust their development, so that they will reliably produce crops under increasingly adverse conditions,” said Wasteneys.

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