Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences

New findings on plants' ingenious defense against mutational damage

Professor Iain George Johnston and the research team at the University of Bergen (UiB) have been instrumental in a recent study that reveals how plants protect themselves from mutational damage. The groundbreaking findings are now presented in a research article in the highly-ranked journal New Phytologist.

Professor Iain George Johnston i Muséhagen
Håvard Kroken Holme/ UiB

Main content

Insights into Plant Defense Mechanisms: UiB and Colorado State Collaboration in New Phytologist

SURPRISING: How do plants avoid the accumulation of mutational damage over time? Surprisingly, part of the answer is to harness randomness. Watch Iain George Johnston explain his findings in this video.

Håvard Kroken Holme/ UiB

- Randomness leads to some of the flowers giving rise to the next generation inheriting more mutational damage, while others inherit less than the original plant. The flowers inheriting less mutational damage can go on to form a successful new generation, while those inheriting more mutational damage are likely to be removed from the gene pool, says Johnston.

The UiB professor, who leads UiB's research team, has dreamt for many years of exploring this process. He is the corresponding author of the recent research article titled "Stochastic genome segregation through Arabidopsis development and reproduction". The article, a collaboration between UiB and Colorado State University, provides valuable insights into how plants maintain their DNA integrity and sheds new light on how plants avoid the accumulation of mutational damage.

Variegerte blader

MUTATION: Mutations in plant DNA can be observed as mild effects in some "variegated" plants, where leaves become bleached and lose the ability to photosynthesize (see image). While this may be beautiful in your garden, it is not beneficial for crops.

Iain George Johnston

Innovative research

UiB has played a crucial role in advancing this innovative research through thorough experiments and analyses that contribute to understanding how plants segregate mutational damage over time. The team has also generated plants with high levels of mutations to study how these mutations are distributed in the plant.

The results support recent theories on how many other life forms maintain their power plants and could be a step towards manipulating oDNA in plants – a crucial aspect of breeding and increasing crop yields. The research provides valuable insights that may have implications for both fundamental plant science and agricultural research.

The research was supported by the European Research Council, National Science Foundation, and the Peder Sather Fund.

Høstfarger på plantene i Muséhagen

INTERDISCIPLINARY: - It's the combination of these variegated plant lines, thorough experiments, and modern mathematics and statistics that has made it possible to explore this process, says Johnston. The autumn colors in the Botanic Gardens make it a bit challenging to observe the phenomenon these days.

Håvard Kroken Holme/ UiB