PerspectivePlant Science

Defining the Plant Germ Line—Nature or Nurture?

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Science  20 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6092, pp. 301-302
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224362

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Teasing apart environmental from inherent or genetic causes in human development is notoriously difficult. Although both likely play important roles, we tend to favor one or the other to explain why we turn out the way we do. A similar nature-nurture tension is at play in the acquisition of cell fates during development. A fertilized zygote must not only divide, but its daughter cells must acquire distinct identities. Are cell fates determined by lineage, such that a mother cell can only give rise to daughter cells of a certain type, or can daughter cells adopt multiple identities depending on their environment? On page 345 in this issue, Kelliher and Walbot (1) show that germline cell identity in maize (corn) is specified by cellular redox potential (the oxidation-reduction state of a cell) under the influence of the environment, and not by cell lineage, as previously thought.