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Plants May Kill Parts of Their Roots to Survive Cold Weather
National University of Singapore Research


Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, was the first plant to have its entire genome sequenced, and is considered a useful model for studying plant biology. It is native to Europe, and two of the species extend into North America and Asia.
Credit: Stefan Lefnaer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some plants shed their leaves in cold weather to conserve energy. Other plants may selectively kill parts of their roots, according to new research from the National University of Singapore. The killing of their roots will help plants withstand the stress from cold weather and recover faster when temperatures rise again.

Two plant biologists from the university carried out the research on thale cress, or Arabidopsis. At temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit), root stem cells of the plant had DNA damage, leading to the death of a certain part of the root. Inhibition of this damage kept the roots alive, but was ultimately more likely to kill the plant.

In sacrificing part of their roots, the plant was better equipped to withstand other stressors brought on by cold weather. When the plant was brought back to an ideal temperature, stem cells divided faster, which brought about faster recovery.

The researchers are looking to apply this knowledge to engineer cold tolerance in plants.

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August 24, 2019, 4:24 pm PDT

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