Two ARG ONAUTE proteins loaded with transposon-derived small RNAs are associated with the reproductive cell lineage in Arabidopsis

Plant Cell. 2023 Dec 7:koad295. doi: 10.1093/plcell/koad295. Online ahead of print.


In sexually propagating organisms, genetic and epigenetic mutations are evolutionarily relevant only if they occur in the germline and are hence transmitted to the next generation. In contrast to most animals, plants are considered to lack an early segregating germline, implying that somatic cells can contribute genetic information to progeny. Here we demonstrate that two ARGONAUTE proteins, AGO5 and AGO9, mark cells associated with sexual reproduction in Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) throughout development. Both AGOs are loaded with dynamically changing small RNA populations derived from highly methylated, pericentromeric, long transposons. Sequencing of single stem cell nuclei revealed that many of these transposons are co-expressed within an AGO5/9 expression domain in the shoot apical meristem (SAM). Co-occurrence of transposon expression and specific AGO expression in the SAM is reminiscent of germline features in animals and supports the existence of an early segregating germline in plants. Our results open the path to investigating transposon biology and epigenome dynamics at cellular resolution in the SAM stem cell niche.