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Plants can now regenerate faster when injured. With a chemical tweak?

The findings could be used to increase the resilience of crops to climate change.

Plants can now regenerate faster when injured. With a chemical tweak?
Genetically modified plant. dra_schwartz/iStock

When plants get hurt, they have two choices: regenerate or defend themselves.

But what if they could be encouraged to only regenerate? This would result in incredible growth and the potential of some very resilient plants.

Now, scientists are working on a nearly magical chemical tweak that could achieve just that, according to a new study published in Developmental Cell.

Injured plants

To come up with this development, the researchers tampered with Arabidopsis thaliana and maize and focused on the plants' DNA to see how it was changing in the first few hours after sustaining an injury. 

What they found was that, when injured, the plants’ glutamate receptor-like proteins began to ramp up their defense mechanism by flooding calcium into the cells. This process was used to tell the plants' little workhorses to act quickly when their defense had been breached by pathogens or other injury-creating entities.

Initially, the researchers believed that the calcium was signaling the cells to start regeneration. But upon further study, they found the cells were only being told to increase their defenses.

Thereupon they further discovered that they could manipulate plants to separate their reactions. This was a crucial step in their research because if the reactions could be separated then one of them (regeneration) could be encouraged.

It was then that the researchers thought of chemically thwarting the receptors from sending out calcium. If they were able to reduce the defense response, could that also mean that they could increase the regeneration response?

Doubled regeneration times

Indeed they could! Their studies further indicated that undertaking this process resulted in a doubled regeneration time for both Arabidopsis and maize in the ability to regrow roots or a stem-cell structure called a callus.

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The findings could now be used to increase the resilience of crops to climate change. Imagine genetically-engineered crops that respond to attack or injury by simply regenerating more thus producing more output. This could prove very fruitful indeed. (Pun intended!)

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