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Reassessing apoptosis in plants

Nature Plantsvolume 3pages773779 (2017) | Download Citation


Cell death can be driven by a genetically programmed signalling pathway known as programmed cell death (PCD). In plants, PCD occurs during development as well as in response to environmental and biotic stimuli. Our understanding of PCD regulation in plants has advanced significantly over the past two decades; however, the molecular machinery responsible for driving the system remains elusive. Thus, whether conserved PCD regulatory mechanisms include plant apoptosis remains enigmatic. Animal apoptotic regulators, including Bcl-2 family members, have not been identified in plants but expression of such regulators can trigger or suppress plant PCD. Moreover, plants exhibit nearly all of the biochemical and morphological features of apoptosis. One difference between plant and animal PCD is the absence of phagocytosis in plants. Evidence is emerging that the vacuole may be key to removal of unwanted plant cells, and may carry out functions that are analogous to animal phagocytosis. Here, we provide context for the argument that apoptotic-like cell death occurs in plants.

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Research in the Dickman lab is supported by BARD and NSF. B.W. is supported by a QUT Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellowship. P.d.F. is supported by grants from the Texas A&M University – CAPES program, the Texas A&M - Conacyt program, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Qatar National Research Foundation. T.J.W. is supported in part by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program Grant no. 2016-67013-24736 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Author information


  1. Institute for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, 77843, USA

    • Martin Dickman
    • , Yurong Li
    •  & Paul de Figueiredo
  2. Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, 77843, USA

    • Martin Dickman
    •  & Yurong Li
  3. Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 4001, QLD, Australia

    • Brett Williams
  4. Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, 77843, USA

    • Paul de Figueiredo
  5. Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texas A&M University, Bryan, Texas, 77807, USA

    • Paul de Figueiredo
  6. Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, 97331, USA

    • Thomas Wolpert
  7. Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, 97331, USA

    • Thomas Wolpert


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M.D., B.W., Y.L., P.d.F. and T.W. wrote the article. P.d.F., B.W. and Y.L. prepared the figures.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Martin Dickman or Brett Williams.

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