The Czechs the first in the world to monitor barley mitosis in real time
23. 10. 2023
About eighty minutes. That’s how long it takes for barley cells to divide. Plant geneticists from the Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS have brought this previously unknown information to light. And in real time, too. The discovery, which will facilitate the breeding of cereal grain varieties, was published in The Plant Journal.
It is a common crop in the Czech Republic, bearing the advantage of large chromosomes. This is why barley was chosen by researchers from the Centre of Plant Structural & Functional Genomics at the Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS as the model plant for their research. And they got lucky: they were the first in the world to observe barley’s cell division by mitosis via live imaging at the microscopic level. Until recently, it was possible to study only non-living plant tissue samples in this way.
“Now we can, for instance, measure certain processes in cell proliferation. We also know where a particular cell is located and in what position it is in relation to surrounding cells. We are also able to observe their mutual interactions,” explains Aleš Pečinka, head of the research group at the Centre of Plant Structural & Functional Genomics at the Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS.
Aleš Pečinka, head of the research group at the Centre of Plant Structural & Functional Genomics at the Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS.
The discovery, on which experts from the Czech Academy of Sciences worked together with teams from Palacký University in Olomouc, will help researchers figure out how barley responds to various stress stimuli, which will contribute to breeding more resistant and higher-yielding cereal grain varieties.
Playing with colours
In order to get a first-hand look at the cell division process, researchers first had to modify the plants so that certain parts of their cell nuclei would “glow” under the microscope.
“Using genetic engineering techniques, we attached either a green, red, blue, or yellow fluorescent protein to selected cell structures. This allowed us to mark the chromosomes, nuclei, and microtubules in the cell,” explains Kateřina Kaduchová from the Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS.
During the challenging research which took four years, the scientists focused on examining the growing roots of young, germinated two-day-old barley plants. It is within the roots that cell division takes place most frequently.
The fact that barley roots grow very rapidly makes it a real challenge to focus the microscope into the deeper layers of their cells. The Olomouc scientists managed to solve the conundrum though: they developed their own system for directing root growth in the microscope.
The blue-yellow cell nuclei in living barley roots.
“It took a lot of time to actually set up the whole experiment, because cell division is fast and doesn’t happen simultaneously. So we attempted to image several stages of cell division and had to repeat the measurements,” says Kaduchová, who spent hundreds of hours working on the project with a confocal microscope, which can magnify a cell 630 times.
The hard work paid off. The new study significantly pushes the boundaries of existing knowledge, opening up further possibilities for barley research. “For example, it was known that chromosomes shorten during the middle phases of cell division. Thanks to our discovery, we were also able to measure their length during earlier and later stages of division,” Pečinka says.
Researchers now know that the shortening of chromosomes continues until the last stage of cell division when the chromosomes are enveloped by the nuclear membrane and the process of daughter cell formation is completed by the cell wall forming.
Kateřina Kaduchová from the Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS.
A tool for all
Thanks to the researchers involved, a new platform for studying the effect of different growth conditions on cell division in barley has been created, which can be used by the scientific community worldwide.
“In the future, scientists can use this tool to assess the impact of different conditions on the growth of cereal grain varieties, which is crucial at a time when we are dealing with the impact of climate change on the growth and yield of crops, as well as ensuring sufficient food sources for an increasing world population,” adds Jan Bartoš, head of the Olomouc site of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS.
Barley will continue to be of interest to researchers there. What’s new is that they will be able to look at the dynamics and behaviour of cells during cell division from a different perspective, e.g., examine how the nuclear membrane behaves during mitosis or how different stress factors and foreign substances affect cell proliferation.
Prepared by: Radka Římanová, External Relations Division, CAO of the CAS, drawing on the CAS press release (in Czech)
Translated by: Tereza Novická, External Relations Division, CAO of the CAS
Photo: Shutterstock; Jana Plavec, External Relations Division, CAO of the CAS; Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS
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The Czech Academy of Sciences (the CAS)
The mission of the CAS
The primary mission of the CAS is to conduct research in a broad spectrum of natural, technical and social sciences as well as humanities. This research aims to advance progress of scientific knowledge at the international level, considering, however, the specific needs of the Czech society and the national culture.
President of the CAS
Prof. Eva Zažímalová has started her second term of office in May 2021. She is a respected scientist, and a Professor of Plant Anatomy and Physiology.
She is also a part of GCSA of the EU.