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Oxford University Scientists have discovered 320 million year-old fossil containing oldest plant root cell

The fossils studied during the research are the remains of the soil from the first giant tropical rainforests on Earth

Scientists in laboratory Image source: Wikimedia commons

Oxford University Herbaria has found in a fossilized root tip, the cells which gave rise to the roots of an ancient plant. The researchers also found, it is the first ever actively growing fossilized root i.e an ancient plant frozen in time. The study is published in the journal Current Biology.

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‘I was examining one of the fossilised soil slides held at the University Herbaria as part of my research into the rooting systems of ancient trees when I noticed a structure that looked like the living root tips we see in plants today. I began to realize that I was looking at a population of 320 million-year-old plant stem cells preserved as they were growing — and that it was the first time anything like this had ever been found. It gives us a unique window into how roots developed hundreds of millions of years ago.’ Oxford Plant Sciences PhD student Alexander (Sandy) Hetherington, who made the discovery during the course of his research, said.

Plant cells. Image source: Wikimedia

These stem cells are located in the meristems (in plants at the tips of roots and shoots) of multicellular organisms. These stem cells are renewing cells which form these organisms. The 320 million-year-old stem cells discovered are different to all those living today, with a unique pattern of cell division that remained unknown until now. That tells us that some of the mechanisms controlling root formation in plants and trees have now become extinct and may have been more diverse than thought.

These roots were important because they comprised the rooting structures of the plants growing in Earth’s first global tropical wetland forests with tall trees over 50m in height and were in part responsible for one of the most dramatic climate change events in history. The evolution of deep rooting systems increased the rate of chemical weathering of silicate minerals in rocks — a chemical reaction that pulled CO2 out of the atmosphere, leading to the cooling of Earth and thus one of the planet’s great ice ages.

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The fossils studied during this research are the remains of the soil from the first giant tropical rainforests on Earth. The rock in which the soil is preserved formed in the Carboniferous swamps that gave rise to the coal sources spanning what is now Appalachia to central Europe, including the coal fields in Wales, northern England and Scotland.

Sandy has named the stem-cell fossil Radix carbonica (Latin for ‘coal root’).

‘These fossils demonstrate how the roots of these ancient plants grew for the first time. It is startling that something so small could have had such a dramatic effect on Earth’s climate. This discovery also shows the importance of collections such as the Oxford University Herbaria — they are so valuable, and we need to maintain them for future generations.’ says Professor Liam Dolan, Head of the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University and senior author of the paper.

-by Vrushali Mahajan, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter @Vrushali Mahajan 


Next Story

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Pose One of the Biggest Threats to Global Health; Researchers Working on Cell Killing Machine

The nanomachines can drill into cancer cells, causing the cells’ nucleus to disintegrate into fragments

antibiotic resistant bacteria, cell killing machine
This video screen shot shows what happens when nanomachines drill through the cell membrane. The tiny motors drill through the nucleus and the entire cell disintegrates. VOA

A team of researchers across three universities is working on a cell-killing machine invisible to the naked eye. “We want to be bacteria’s worst nightmare,” said James Tour, T.T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University in Houston. He is also a professor of materials science and nanoengineering, and computer science.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose one of the biggest threats to global health, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers at Rice University, Durham University in Britain and North Carolina State University may have discovered a way to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

They’re experimenting with tiny, manmade nanomachines that can drill into a cell, killing it. The machines are single molecule motors that can spin at about 3 million rotations a second when a blue light shines on them. As they spin, they drill into the cell. Harmful bacteria cannot mutate to overcome this type of weapon, Tour said.

“We may have found something that the cell could never build a resistance to,” he added. The nanomachines are so small that about 50,0000 of them can fit across the diameter of a human hair. In comparison, only about 50 cells can take up that amount of space. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are not the only enemies this weapon can fight.

Cancer killer

The nanomachines can drill into cancer cells, causing the cells’ nucleus to disintegrate into fragments. “We’ve tried four different types, and every cancer cell that it touches is toast,” said Tour, whose team tested the nanomachines on a couple strains of human breast cancer cells, cancerous skin cells and pancreatic cancer cells.

The way it works is that a peptide, also a molecule that consists of amino acids, is added to the nanomotor. That peptide recognizes specific cells and binds the nanomachine to that cell so that only cancer cells, not healthy cells, are targeted. A blue light activates the machine. “Generally, it’s not just one nanomachine, it’s 50, and each cell is going to get 50 holes drilled in it generally,” Tour said.

The nanomachines can fight cancerous cells in the mouth, upper and lower gastrointestinal tracts and bladder “wherever you can get a scope in, a light, apply it right there, and use the light” to activate the motors, Tour said. It would only take a few minutes to kill cancerous cells with nanomachines, in contrast to days or longer using radiation or chemotherapy, Tour said.

antibiotic resistant bacteria, cell killing machine
The nanomachines can drill into cancer cells, causing the cells’ nucleus to disintegrate into fragments. Pixabay

Sculpt away fat

In another application, nanomachines could be used to sculpt away fat cells when applied onto the skin through a gel. “You just take a bright light and just pass it over and these start attacking the adipocytes, which are the fat cells and blow those open,” Tour said.

ALSO READ: Researchers Discover Viruses in Kitchen Sponges that can Kill Bacteria

Next steps

Researchers have only worked with nanomachines in a lab, so using this method in a clinical setting is still some time off. Later this year, researchers will start testing nanomachines on staphylococcus bacteria skin infections on live rodents.

One challenge scientists will have to overcome as nanomachine research progresses is how to get the blue light deep into the body if the motors are to fight bacteria or tumor cells that are well below the skin’s surface. (VOA)