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The role of telomeres in plants


Telomeres are short groups of repeated nucleotides that serve as protection for chromosomes. You can think of them as the protective end caps that serve as a way of preserving chromosomes from damage and prevent their fusion with neighbouring chromosomes [2].

Image: See credits under ref. [5] below.

TELOMERES: Short groups of repeated nucleotides that serve as protection for chromosomes.



The only way to preserve telomeres length is by means of an active enzyme called telomerase, an enzyme which is able to replace short bits of damaged telomeres [4], as well as preventing any habits that may result in damage to those ones as smoking, drinking or even having high levels of stress in our lives.

In vegetative or somatic cells (any cell forming the body of an organism) [1] telomeres get shorter and shorter after each cellular replication, in fact, telomeres are crucial for correct cell division [3].

Telomeres degradation can also occur by other multiple factors such as smoking, physical inactivity and a diet high in refined sugars or even stress levels [2]. In fact, telomeres shortening or degradation has also been associated in multiple studies as a risk factor for cancer.

Having said that, little was known about telomeres function in plants, at least until now, as a study led by CSIC researcher Ana Caño-Delgado [3], has put some light on what this role may be. 

The study, based on measurements of telomeres at cell level in plants, has shown how telomeres and telomerase are essential for the renewal of the stem cells in plants, establishing a link between telomeres length and the longevity of the plant [4].

The study can lead to many doors being opened, using plants to look for compounds capable of regulating telomeres in animal cells [3]. 


[1] Wikipedia article on somatic cells under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 
[2] Wikipedia article Telomere under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License;
[3] Single-Cell Telomere-Length Quantification Couples Telomere Length to Meristem Activity and Stem Cell Development in Arabidopsis. Mary-Paz González-García, Irina Pavelescu, Andreés Canela, Xavier Sevillano, Katherine A. Leehy, Andrew D.L. Nelson, Marta Ibañes, Dorothy E. Shippen, Maria A. Blasco, Ana I. Caño-Delgado. Cell Reports (2015) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2015.04.013
[4] Wikipedia article telomerase function under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License;
[5] Image credits: Skitterphoto Pixabay Public Domain (CC0 1.0 Universal).