Nephron Exp Nephrol. 2014;126(2):35-39. DOI: 10.1159/000360658

Stem Cells and Regeneration in Plants

Giovanni Sena

Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, London, UK



Background: Plants are characterized by indeterminate post-embryonic development that is evident, for example, in the continuous branching of shoots and roots. High competence to regenerate tissues is another consequence of such intrinsic developmental plasticity in plants. It has been suggested that specialized groups of cells within plant meristems should be compared to stem cells in animals, but the utility of this label in the context of post-embryonic plant development and regeneration is often debated.

Summary: This paper is organized into 3 short sections, where (a) key observations and experimental results on tissue regeneration in plants – mainly in the model system Arabidopsis thaliana, (b) stem cell activity and (c) their role in regeneration are described. The main focus is maintained on the critical aspects of defining stem cell-ness in plants, particularly in the context of tissue regeneration. A number of recent excellent reviews are cited throughout the text to give the reader the appropriate tools to dig deeper into the various stimulating topics introduced here.

Key Messages: Despite the remarkable somatic developmental plasticity characterizing post-embryonic development in plants, use of the classic concept of stem cells has been imported from the animal literature with the goal of facilitating our understanding and description of plant developmental processes. It is not clear if this is the case, especially in light of the recent experimental results on root regeneration in Arabidopsis mutants.

PMID: 24854637



The concept of stem cell is widely adopted in the context of biomedical research, where time and finances are invested in taking advantage of the biological peculiarities of such pool of cells. Tissue regeneration in humans and animals in general is certainly one topic where the role of stem cells is considered crucial. What about plants, then? The history of biology is full of examples where scientists advanced their understanding of complex phenomena by comparing animal and plant organisms. Are plant organs such as flowers, leaves, roots, capable of regenerating? Do plants have stem cells? If so, what is the role of stem cells in organ regeneration in plants, and could this kind of research inspire biomedically relevant discussion in the field of regeneration?

This paper by Dr Sena contains a quick review of the use of the stem cell concept in plant developmental biology, especially in relation to the process of tissue regeneration in plants. We are reminded of previous results indicating that, for example, the root of the model system Arabidopsis thaliana is actually still capable of regenerating its completely excised tip even when a genetic mutation severely cripples the functionality of root apical stem cells.

It is clear that, in light of these and other analogous results, and by embracing the full meaning of the well-known developmental plasticity of post-embryonic development in plants, the idea of a unique set of multi-potent somatic cells today appears somehow weakened in the context of plants.

The author dives in this discussion, describing in simple terms the current controversy surrounding the actual usefulness of the popular label “stem cell” in plant development. The reader will find precise references on the topic and will be offered the opportunity to reflect on analogous debates in the biomedical, animal-centred, community.



Dr Giovanni Sena

Imperial College London



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