What Is Totipotency in Plants?

Totipotency refers to a developmental flexibility within plant cells that distinguish them from most animal cells, in that many somatic plant cells can regenerate into entire plants. Two researchers in the 1950s were the first to prove this ability, which has become a fascinating trait in the plant kingdom.

Totipotency often appears when plant tissues in cells are taken away from their typical environment and put on artificial substances within a tissue culture. A plant cell in this situation may begin expressing the program necessary for building an entirely new plant. Not all plant cells have this ability because some have lost some or all genomes while having their environment changed or disturbed.

When expression of totipotency begins, mature cells go back into the cell cycle and start dividing again, which sometimes leads to organized development. However, this process may lead to an intermediate callus stage that causes organized structures to develop later after a separate initiation.

For totipotency to take place, the cells must have the ability to be pushed down a particular pathway of development, and the cells have to express commitment to that pathway. One element of totipotency that remains under study is whether it occurs in individual cells or results from the collaborative interaction of a cell cluster.