The era of the ‘digital plant’ is dawning
Computer simulations of molecular networks in plants are now able to clearly visualise the growth of roots. At the forefront of these developments are the studies of the 'Molecular Genetics' research group. Under the lead of Spinoza Laureate Ben Scheres they published two research breakthroughs in Nature on 25 October 2007. Their findings are an important step towards a 'digital plant'.
The final objective is to understand how genes regulate the architecture of plants. Ben Scheres discovered stem cells in the tip of the Arabidopsis root as well as the corresponding genetic and biochemical explanations of its originating mechanism. The results published in Nature provide a clear picture of the growth of roots.
As a result of increasing insight into the fundamental laws of the architecture of plants, this study will provide important strategies for food supply, agriculture and nature conservation. In future this knowledge as well as the computer models themselves may be extended from the root to the whole plant and as a result the era of the 'digital plant' will come much closer. Scheres' research may also be of great importantance to cancer research, as various factors involved in the formation of tumours play a role in vegetable stem cells as well. Professor Scheres is coordinator of Utrecht University’s 'Life Sciences and Biocomplexity' research focus area.