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Phytoplasmal infection derails genetically preprogrammed meristem fate and alters plant architecture

Wei Wei, Robert Edward Davis, Donald L. Nuss and Yan Zhao
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Vol. 110, No. 47 (November 19, 2013), pp. 19149-19154
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23756857
Page Count: 6
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Abstract

In the life cycle of higher plants, it is the fate of meristem cells that determines the pattern of growth and development, and therefore plant morphotype and fertility. Floral transition, the turning point from vegetative growth to reproductive development, is achieved via genetically programmed sequential changes in meristem fate from vegetative to inflorescence, and to floral, leading to flower formation and eventual seed production. The transition is rarely reversible once initiated. In this communication, we report that a bacterial infection can derail the genetically programmed fate of meristem cells, thereby drastically altering the growth pattern of the host plant. We identified four characteristic symptoms in tomato plants infected with a cell wall-less bacterium, phytoplasma. The symptoms are a manifestation of the pathogen-induced alterations of growth pattern, whereas each symptom corresponds to a distinct phase in the derailment of shoot apical meristem fate. The phases include premature floral meristem termination, suppressed floral meristem initiation, delayed conversion of vegetative meristem to inflorescence meristem, and repetitive initiation and outgrowth of lateral vegetative meristems. We further found that the pathogen-induced alterations of growth pattern were correlated with transcriptional reprogramming of key meristem switching genes. Our findings open an avenue toward understanding pathological alterations in patterns of plant growth and development, thus aiding identification of molecular targets for disease control and symptom alleviation. The findings also provide insights for understanding stem cell pluripotency and raise a tantalizing possibility for using phytoplasma as a tool to dissect the course of normal plant development and to modify plant morphogenesis by manipulating meristem fate.

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