Advertisement

Scientists find oldest plant root stem cells

These particular stem cells are different than those found today, employing a special strategy of division never before seen by scientists.

By Brooks Hays
Scientists find oldest plant root stem cells
A fossilized root tip reveals a plant in the act of growing -- proliferating stem cells. Photo by Sandy Hetherington/Oxford University

OXFORD, England, June 3 (UPI) -- Oxford scientists have found the oldest plant root stem cells to date. They were discovered in the fossilized root tip in collection at the Oxford University Herbaria.

The root tip offers the only known example of a plant fossilized in the act of growing.

Advertisement

"I was examining one of the fossilised soil slides held at the University Herbaria as part of my research into the rooting systems of ancient trees when I noticed a structure that looked like the living root tips we see in plants today," Alexander "Sandy" Hetherington, a PhD student in Oxford's plant sciences department, said in a news release.

"I began to realise that I was looking at a population of 320 million-year-old plant stem cells preserved as they were growing -- and that it was the first time anything like this had ever been found. "It gives us a unique window into how roots developed hundreds of millions of years ago."

RELATED Cretaceous fossils illuminate early ant evolution

Stem cells are the undifferentiated, self-renewing cells unique to multicellular organisms; they're capable of turning into any other type of cell, thus offering a variety of cellular functions.

These particular stem cells are different than those found today, employing a special strategy of division never before seen by scientists.

Advertisement

The root tip of interest belonged to a plant from Earth's first giant tropical rainforest. Researchers believe these initial forests spawned the first major ice age as deep root systems accelerated the chemical weathering of silicate minerals in underlying rocks and pulled CO2 from the atmosphere in great quantities.

RELATED Ancient species reveals Tibetan origins of ice age mountain sheep

Hetherington decided to name the stem-cell fossil Radix carbonica, Latin for "coal root."

The early regions of dense vegetation that spawned the root eventually became condensed beneath subsequent earthen layers. Over millions of years, the squeezed rainforest remnants became expansive deposits of coal -- in Appalachia, Alaska, Germany, Wales and elsewhere.

The discovery is described in a new paper, published this week in the journal Current Biology.

RELATED Continental drift to thank for coral reef biodiversity

Latest Headlines

Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us

Advertisement