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. 2012 Dec;99(12):1891-902.
doi: 10.3732/ajb.1200089. Epub 2012 Dec 5.

Cell Longevity and Sustained Primary Growth in Palm Stems

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Cell Longevity and Sustained Primary Growth in Palm Stems

P Barry Tomlinson et al. Am J Bot. .
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Abstract

Longevity, or organismal life span, is determined largely by the period over which constituent cells can function metabolically. Plants, with modular organization (the ability continually to develop new organs and tissues) differ from animals, with unitary organization (a fixed body plan), and this difference is reflected in their respective life spans, potentially much longer in plants than animals. We draw attention to the observation that palm trees, as a group of monocotyledons without secondary growth comparable to that of lignophytes (plants with secondary growth from a bifacial cambium), retain by means of sustained primary growth living cells in their trunks throughout their organismal life span. Does this make palms the longest-lived trees because they can grow as individuals for several centuries? No conventional lignophyte retains living metabolically active differentiated cell types in its trunk for this length of time, even though the tree as a whole can exist for millennia. Does this contrast also imply that the long-lived cells in a palm trunk have exceptional properties, which allows this seeming immortality? We document the long-life of many tall palm species and their inherent long-lived stem cell properties, comparing such plants to conventional trees. We provide a summary of aspects of cell age and life span in animals and plants. Cell replacement is a feature of animal function, whereas conventional trees rely on active growth centers (meristems) to sustain organismal development. However, the long persistence of living cells in palm trunks is seen not as evidence for unique metabolic processes that sustain longevity, but is a consequence of unique constructional features. This conclusion suggests that the life span of plant cells is not necessarily genetically determined.

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