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Prions special protein molecule help plants in remembring things, reveals study


A team of scientists including an Indian-biologist has found special memory cell that helps mustard plant in memorising things and do similar things season after season. Three years of research and analysis of over 20,000 plants has led to the discovery of special proteins called prions that play the role of neurons to form environmental memories.

Brain cells store information by rearranging molecules in a special configuration. Similarly, prions can also change their shape and induce shape change to arrange protein molecules in a specific configuration to memorise things.

“This is the first evidence that a plant protein may self-replicate as a prion - this opens up the possibility of protein-based memories in plants,” said Sohini Chakrabortee, who led the research as a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Susan Lindquist at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. “It is these memories that allow plants to distinguish between a single night of cold and a long winter.”

“When we talk about plant memories, we mean the plant that has a memory responds differently to a stimulus compared to a plant that has never experienced this before,” said Can Kayatekin, a post-doctoral associate and a member of the Whitehead-MIT team.

Research on prions started back in 1980s when several diseases including Mad Cow disease were linked to some self-propagating proteins that were also involved in brain disorders. Several studies have explained that prions have the capability to store information for a long duration of time.

The current study has taken a step further and explains the role of prions in plants. Study authors believe that prions play a crucial role in flowering of plants.

The study appeared in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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