Scientists: Plant Stem Cells Could Offer Embryonic Research Alternatives

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 29, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists: Plant Stem Cells Could Offer Embryonic Research Alternatives Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 29
, 2006

Melbourne, Australia ( — Two Australian biologists say that stem cell research using cells form plants could allow researchers to conduct studies on stem cells without needing to destroy human embryos. They say plant stem cells have the same properties as human embryonic stem cells and could be studied without the destruction of human life.

Prem Bhalla and Mohan Singh, the directors of the Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Laboratory at Melbourne University outlined their ideas in the recent edition of the scientific journal Trends in Plant Science.

The scientists say that plant cells share the same properties that make embryonic stem cells attractive to researchers — the ability to transform into virtually any tissue.

They also say that scientists have been able to do something in plants that they have not been able to do with human embryonic stem cells. They have been able to obtain plant stem cells and reprogram them to grow new plants and parts of plants.

"What we still don’t understand is how it happens at the gene level," Professor Bhalla told the Australian Associated Press. "That’s why we need to do more research on plant stem cells."

Bhalla said if they can control the mechanisms that cause the plant stem cells to differentiate and can do the same thing with human adult stem cells, they may be able to make significant progress.

It’s possible because of the similarities.

"Of course there are differences between plants and animals, but there are underlying evolutionary features which are common," Bhalla told AAP.

"Basically, they all do the same functions — they maintain a pool of cells which can make new organisms or new parts of the same organism," Bhalla added. "If we can understand that commonality, then we can apply that knowledge to animal and human systems."

Bhalla told the Australian news service that plant stem cell research would be devoid of the moral and ethical issues that surround embryonic stem cell research.

"There are not any ethical issues because we are taking a cutting of a plant, and cloning a plant — everyone does that," she said. "We are free to research in that sense on plants."