Saturday, May 8, 2021

Mother-Child Communication in Plants

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

An international team led by the Freiburg plant biologist Prof. Dr. Thomas Laux has shown that mother plants guide the development of their embryos using the hormone auxin. In the future, this result might help breeders grow plants that are more resilient in the face of environmental challenges. The researchers published their study in the journal Nature Plants.

When embryos develop inside their mother, their well-being depends on the nurture provided by the maternal tissue. Mutations in the maternal tissue may result in defective embryo development. In seed-bearing plants such as grains, the embryos develop in unison with the surrounding tissue of the mother plant.

Laux and colleagues therefore posited that there must be a form of communication between the mother plant and the embryo that guides the early stages of development after fertilization. Chulmin Park, a doctoral researcher in the group of Laux, observed in pollinated flowers of the model organism Arabidopsis that the hormone auxin accumulates in the area of the seed in which the embryo is connected to the maternal tissue.

The hormone auxin accumulates in the area of the seed where the embryo is connected to the maternal tissue. (Image: Thomas Laux)
The hormone auxin accumulates in the area of the seed where the embryo is connected to the maternal tissue. (Image: Thomas Laux)

Auxin is used by plants to control a variety of processes, ranging from organ development to defense against pathogenic microbes. The Freiburg biologists have shown that embryo development is disturbed when the production of auxin by the maternal cells is blocked.

However, artificial activation of auxin biosynthesis in the embryo cells, which are normally unable to produce this hormone in early stages of development, allowed the embryos to develop normally without a maternal auxin supply. With these results, the researchers demonstrated that mother plants use this signaling molecule in order to communicate with their offspring and guide the earliest stages of their development.

Since they made similar observations in maize, the researchers speculate that the mechanism they discovered may be widespread in plant species. This finding could also contribute to the optimization of biotechnological plant propagation. Laux explained:

Provided by: University of Chicago Medicine [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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