Some plants have a very interesting property: if a piece of leaf is placed in the soil, an entire plant will grow from it, as if from a seed. The leaf cells are “reprogrammed” such that the pattern of gene expression in the differentiated cells is reset to that of a cell with the ability to begin the regular developmental process, such as a stem cell.
This project seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the plastic nature of plant cells. We used the moss Physcomitrella patens as a model because of its high reprogramming rate, the ease of observing the reprogramming process, and the feasibility of making genetic modifications using gene targeting techniques. The mechanisms we hope to reveal can be applied to other organisms without this ability.