Birmingham scientists discover plant ‘brain’ controlling seed development

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A new study reveals a group of cells that function as a ‘brain’ for plant embryos, capable of assessing environmental conditions and dictating when seeds will germinate.

Birmingham scientists shown that the trade-off between speed and accuracy is controlled by a group of cells within the plant embryo that operate in a similar way to the human brain.

Researchers located these cells within a plant called Arabidopsis, or thale cress, contains two types of cell. One that promotes seed dormancy, and the other promotes germination.

These two groups of cells communicate with each other by moving hormones, an analogous mechanism to that employed by our own brains when we decide whether or not to move.

plant embryos

This is difficult to observe in real-time in plant embryos, so the team relied on mathematical modeling to predict how biological processes will open in the most common situations.

Following the theory, they used a mutant plant where cells were more essentially enhancing communication between circuit elements to show that germination timing depends on these intra-region signals.

Professor George Bassel, said, the study reveals a crucial separation between the components within a plant decision-making centre.

In the human brain, this separation is thought to introduce a time delay, smoothing out noisy signals from the environment and increasing the accuracy with which we make decisions.

The separation of these parts in the seed ‘brain’ also appears to be central to how it functions. The separation of circuit elements allows a wider palette of responses to environmental stimuli.

The brain’s function predicted that more seeds would germinate when exposed to varying environments than to constant environments.

Our work has important implications for understanding how crops and weeds grow, adds Prof Bassel.

More information: [PNAS]

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