Chromatin organization in Arabidopsis root epidermal development

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Contracts Office

Abstract

In general, all the different types of cells that comprise a complex organism like a plant or an animal have the same genes. An important question is how a single set of genes can be used in different ways to produce these different types of cells. One answer that is now emerging is that the genes are modified in semi-permanent ways - epigenetically - so that some can be switched on and others cannot. Thus different types of cells have the same genes, but different epigenetic states. Important questions are how these epigenetic states are set up and to what extent and under what circumstances they can be changed. An understanding of this will have far reaching consequences for biology and medicine. In animals, it is relatively difficult to change epigenetic states, which is probably one reason why most animal cell types cannot be regenerated. On the other hand, plant cells are much more flexible in their development, which is why plants can often be regenerated from pieces of tissue (cuttings) or even single cells. One reason for this is likely to lie in the way plant genomes are modified epigenetically. We have begun a detailed study of one gene that is responsible for causing specific cells in the root of a plant to become root hair cells. We have been able to show by advanced microscopy that the region of the DNA containing this gene is in a different physical state in cells that will become root hair cells from cells that will not. Furthermore, we have shown by looking at naturally occurring aberrant cells that this difference in state is reversible and is reset every time the cells divide. In this proposal we will study the detailed biochemical basis of the physical difference in this gene. This should ultimately allow us to find out how and why the genes are in different states in different cells, and how this state is set and reset. We expect that this will help to explain how plant cells can change their developmental fates more easily than animal cells.

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