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Study sheds light on the pathways of plant regeneration

In the intricate world of plant biology, researchers are on a quest to uncover the secrets of plant regeneration. Plants have the fascinating ability to regenerate an entire organism from a somatic cell – an ordinary cell not typically associated with reproduction

Plant regeneration is based on the formation of a structure known as the shoot apical meristem (SAM), which subsequently gives rise to lateral organs critical for the plant’s reconstruction. 

However, SAM formation does not just occur haphazardly – it is regulated by a series of positive and negative regulator molecules. But what molecules exactly, and are there other regulatory layers that are yet to be unveiled?

Focus of the study

To answer these questions, a research team led by the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Japan focused on Arabidopsis, a model plant species frequently utilized in genetic research. 

The researchers identified and characterized a key negative regulator of shoot regeneration known as WUSCHEL-RELATED HOMEOBOX 13 (WOX13) gene and its accompanying protein.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, reveals how WOX13 promotes the non-dividing (non-meristematic) function of callus cells. This action as a transcriptional (RNA-level) repressor can impact the efficiency of plant regeneration.

“The search for strategies to enhance shoot regeneration efficiency in plants has been a long one. But progress has been hindered because the related regulatory mechanisms have been unclear. Our study fills this gap by defining a new cell-fate specification pathway,” explained Momoko Ikeuchi, the principal investigator of the study.

Previous research 

Prior research by Ikeuchi’s team had established WOX13’s role in tissue repair and organ adhesion following grafting, thus piquing their interest in this gene’s potential role in regulating shoot regeneration. 

They experimented with a mutated version of Arabidopsis, called the wox13 mutant, which has a dysfunctional WOX13 gene. Using a two-step tissue culture system, the experts analyzed the speed of shoot regeneration in plants both with and without the WOX13 gene.

The analysis painted a clear picture: Shoot regeneration was faster – by approximately three days – in plants lacking the WOX13 gene, and conversely, slower when WOX13 expression was induced. It became evident that WOX13 is a negative regulator of shoot regeneration.

Current research 

To substantiate these findings, the team undertook a comparative study using RNA sequencing, examining gene expression over multiple time points in both the wox13 mutants and normal (wild-type) plants. 

The absence of WOX13 did not substantially alter the gene expression of Arabidopsis under callus-inducing conditions. 

However, the absence of WOX13 under shoot-inducing conditions significantly amplified the gene alterations, leading to increased expression of shoot meristem regulator genes. These same genes were suppressed within 24 hours when WOX13 was overexpressed in mutant plants.

This breakthrough highlights a crucial role for WOX13, showing it inhibits a subset of shoot meristem regulators while simultaneously activating cell wall modifier genes involved in cell expansion and differentiation.

New understanding of plant regeneration 

The NAIST study also underscores a significant departure from traditional understanding of plant regeneration. Unlike previously identified negative regulators, which solely prevent the transition from callus towards SAM, WOX13 impedes SAM specification by promoting the acquisition of alternative cell fates. 

WOX13 and the regulator WUS form a mutually repressive regulatory circuit, leading to the transcriptional inhibition of WUS and other SAM regulators.

“Our findings show that knocking out WOX13 can promote the acquisition of shoot fate and enhance shoot regulation efficiency. This means that WOX13 knockout can serve as a tool in agriculture and horticulture and boost the tissue culture-mediated de novo shoot regeneration of crops,” said Ikeuchi. 

As scientists continue to decipher the complex mechanisms of plant regeneration, such discoveries hold promise for innovative applications in agriculture and horticulture, potentially transforming plant regeneration efficiency and crop yields.

More about self-renewal in plants

Self-renewal in plants refers to the capacity of a plant to continually produce new cells and tissues throughout its lifetime. This process is essential for the survival and growth of plants, and it happens thanks to specific types of cells called meristems.


Meristems are regions of plant growth, where cells are undifferentiated, much like stem cells in animals. These cells can divide and differentiate into various types of plant cells and have the potential to grow into any part of the plant. 

Meristems are typically located in the tips of roots and shoots (called apical meristems), which allow for vertical growth, and in the vascular and cork cambium (lateral meristems), which allow for girth expansion in woody plants.


Self-renewal is also essential for the process of plant regeneration. Plants have a remarkable ability to regenerate lost or damaged parts. For example, if a branch gets cut off, many plant species can grow a new one in its place. Similarly, some plants can even grow an entirely new plant from a single cell or small tissue cutting, a feature that is extensively utilized in the field of plant tissue culture and micropropagation.

The self-renewal in plants is controlled by a complex network of genetic and hormonal pathways. Several plant hormones, such as auxins, cytokinins, and gibberellins, play crucial roles in the process of cell division and differentiation. These hormones work together with various genes and transcription factors to ensure the proper development and growth of plants.

Studies in model organisms, such as the small flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana, have provided much insight into the molecular mechanisms behind plant self-renewal and regeneration. However, there’s still a lot to learn about these processes, and ongoing research continues to uncover new aspects of plant growth and development.


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