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June 9th, 2017 / Phys.org

A new study by scientists at the University of Birmingham has revealed a group of cells that function as a ‘brain’ for plant embryos, capable of assessing environmental conditions and dictating when seeds will germinate.

A plant’s decision about when to germinate is one of the most important it will make during its life. Too soon, and the plant may be damaged by harsh winter conditions; too late, and it may be out-competed by other, more precocious plants.

In a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), scientists from the University of Birmingham have shown that this trade-off between speed and accuracy is controlled by a small group of cells within the plant embryo that operate in similar way to the human brain.

The scientists showed that the ‘decision-making centre’ in a plant called Arabidopsis, or thale cress, contains two types of cell – one that promotes seed dormancy, and one that 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. Read more