THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A flower petal, or for that matter any part of a plant, can be used to regenerate the whole plant. An old truth. But one that after decades of its discovery, continues to elicit wonder in botany researchers.
So, when a team from IISER-Thiruvananthapuram uncovered the mechanism which makes such regeneration possible, their paper became the cover story of the April issue of ‘Current Biology’, an international journal. “Ours is perhaps the first paper from India to become the cover story of ‘Current Biology’,” says Kalika Prasad, the IISER faculty who was the leading corresponding author of the paper.
Their paper titled ‘Plethora Genes Control Regeneration by a Simple Two-Step Process’ says that regeneration is triggered by a set of master regulator genes called Plethora genes. “Plethora genes are master regulators found in stem cells. In the beginning, these activate adult stem cells to make the right regenerative tissue. In step two, Plethora genes regulate the number of other genes, which are essential for the formation of the entire plant system,” says Kalika Prasad.
“We start our research with a question. In this case, I used to wonder how an entire plant system can be reborn from any part. What triggers this magical process?” says Kalika Prasad.
The mechanism was observed in real time, using a sophisticated confocal imaging microscope at IISER. Abdul Kareem, a PhD student at IISER, is the first author of the paper. Among the eleven authors, several are undergraduate students at IISER. “IISER provided the opportunity for undergrad students to be part of this landmark study,” says Kalika Prasad.
The team collaborated with Elliot Meyerowitz, from California Institute of Technology, Pasadena and Ben Scheres, from Wageningen University Research, Netherlands. Elliot had published a paper five years ago, establishing the fact that plants too have stem cells recruited for regeneration. Popular belief was that all plant cells can regenerate. Ben has been working on stem cell research.
The regeneration study at IISER is a landmark study which will find application not just in agriculture, but studies of regeneration in animal kingdom, according to Kalika Prasad.
“Despite the striking diversity in the plant and animal kingdom, all organisms share a common biological ability to regenerate,” he says, “Some animals, like plants, can regenerate entire organs. For example, the lizard species called aquatic salamander can regenerate its limb, should it be damaged. Since regeneration is a common trait, some of the molecules, or genes, might be common in all.”
Next, the IISER team will be comparing regeneration in various organisms, to find the common thread.