[Editor's note: Kevin Folta is a molecular biologist and chair of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida.]
Recent research from Dr. Mark Settles at the University of Florida describes a deep evolutionary link between the processes that govern cell identity in a kernel of corn and those that turn a blood stem cell into a cancerous threat to human life.
Settles and colleagues analyzed mutant kernels with defective structures and content to unravel how different cells function and communicate while the grain is growing and filling with nutrients.
[The result of the research] shows that the defects observed in the corn kernels are the same genetic errors, or mutations, in blood cells that lead to some forms of myelodysplasia, [a blood defect disease that] can progress into acute myeloid leukemia. Genetic mistakes in both corn cells and blood cells affect a similar suite of genes, even though these are very different organisms. This is a remarkable discovery, because it suggests that animal and plant processes that determine cell identity share more similarities than previously thought.
[The study can be found here.]
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