Plant chromosomes get sliced and scrambled

Previously, scientists had only known of chromosome shattering, or "chromothripsis," occuring in animal cells. (Credit: Martin Kenny/Flickr)

Plants can undergo the same extreme “chromosome shattering” seen in some human cancers and developmental syndromes, say researchers.

Previously, chromosome shattering, or “chromothripsis,” had only been seen in animal cells.

The process could be applied in plant breeding as a way to create haploid plants with genetic material from only one parent, says first author Ek Han Tan, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of California, Davis plant biology department.

Although plants don’t get cancer, it might also allow cancer researchers to use the laboratory plant Arabidopsis as a model to study chromosome behavior in cancer.

Chromothripsis involves slicing chromosomes into apparently random pieces, and reassembling it like a broken vase, often with pieces completely missing or in the wrong place.

Generally speaking, this is not a good thing, although in one recently published case a woman was cured of a genetic disorder when the gene responsible was lost due to chromothripsis.

Han Tan, professor Luca Comai, and colleagues were studying centromeres, the handles by which chromosomes are moved and allocated to daughter cells during cell division.

They discovered that when a variant of the model plant Arabidopsis with weakened centromeres is crossed to a plant with normal centromeres, the resulting embryos undergo chromothripsis, the cut-and-reassembly process leading to “shattered chromosomes.”

Additional coauthors of the paper in eLife are from Masaryk University, Czech Republic, and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram, India.

The work began under the guidance of the late Simon Chan at UC Davis and was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Source: UC Davis