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Plants grow throughout their entire life. This is due to a small structure at the tip of the plant's shoots known as the meristem. This is the control center for the maintenance of stem cells—which can be converted into any cell type—and for the creation of plant organs such as side shoots and leaves. Although all plants have to carry out these basic tasks, the meristem is different in shape and size in differing species such as maize and thale cress. An international team of researchers headed by Professor Marja Timmermans of the Center for Plant Molecular Biology at the University of Tübingen has discovered that the meristem has even greater tasks than scientists had realized. It controls the architecture of the whole plant from the very tip. By mapping the genetic circuits involved in these functions in maize, the team has discovered key starting points for technological improvement of crops. Their results have been published in the journal Genome Research.
In multicellular organisms, cells have to communicate with each other in order to coordinate development. They recognize their position within the organism by creating and perceiving signal molecules; this enables them to decide which cell types are to be formed at which location. "Plants cannot move, yet they react with remarkable flexibility to changes in their environment," says Timmermans. Her aim was to explore...
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