Plant ageing, rejuvenation and life history strategy
What are key regulators of plant ageing that can reverse ageing in plants (rejuvenation), and how can we use this knowledge to improve crop plants?
- Remko Offringa
- Fellowship from the Iran Ministry of Science, Research and Technology
- Fellowship of the Higher Education Commission, Pakistan, by industrial support
- NWO Building Blocks of Life grant
Plants, like animals, develop and age through a fixed order of distinct phases, starting with embryogenesis. All flowering plants go through the same stages of juvenile and adult vegetative growth and a reproductive phase, but the life span of individual species can vary from weeks up to several thousands of years.
Plants, like animals, develop and age through a fixed order of distinct phases, starting with embryogenesis. All flowering plants go through the same stages of juvenile and adult vegetative growth and a reproductive phase, but the life span of individual species can vary from weeks up to several thousands of years. Many flowering plant species, including our major crops, are monocarpic, that is: they produce seed but are unable to grow further and die, as all their vegetative meristems are converted to reproductive meristems. By contrast, polycarpic plants generally live for more than two growing seasons, and do so by maintaining axillary meristems in the vegetative state, allowing them to produce new shoots after seed set and during the next growing season.
Within this project we investigate the process of plant ageing through developmental phase transitions in Arabidopsis thaliana. An important aim is to identify key regulators that can reverse ageing in plants (rejuvenation), for example by inducing somatic embryogenesis or wood formation, or by acting as molecular switch between the monocarpic and polycarpic life history strategy.
We are also investigating how we can use knowledge on such key regulatory genes to improve developmental traits in crop plants by non-GM genome editing approaches (e.g. TILLING, CRISPR-CAS9). In addition, we are testing the use of the Agrobacterium tumefaciens T4 secretion system to translocate such key regulators to plant cells in order to enhance processes such as in vitro regeneration.
This research provides new insights into the process of aging in plants, and is likely to lead to more general paradigms for healthy aging and longevity. Moreover, our studies touch upon central questions concerning life history strategy and fitness in plant development and evolution. A major future effort will be to test whether converting monocarpic crops into polycarpic plants should permit multiple harvests without the need for sowing and replanting will lead to more sustainable agri- and horticultural practices.
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