2To whom correspondence should be addressed.
3Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843, USA.
Submitted July 25, 1997.
Barbara McClintock began investigating plant telomeres during the 1930s, but little additional work was done in this area until a telomeric DNA sequence was isolated and characterized from Arabidopsis thaliana in 1988. This sequence, a simple repeat of the heptanucleotide 5´-TTTAGGG-3´, has been found in telomeres of almost all plants analyzed. Telomere length in plants, which can be a long as 75 kb or as short as 2 kb, is controlled by both genetic and developmental factors. The major mechanism for synthesis of telomeres is telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein with reverse transcriptase activity. Telomerase expression is highly regulated in both plants and animals. For example, there is little or no detectable expression of telomerase in most vegetative tissues of plants nor in most somatic tissues of animals. In contrast to animals, plants do not specify a germ line until late in development, but telomerase is reactivated during flowering, possibly to ensure that gametes and embryos arising from them inherit fully functional chromosomes. Telomerase is also highly expressed in plant tissue culture cells, as might be expected for cells with an unlimited capacity for proliferation. Despite recent progress in investigating plant telomeres and telomerase at the molecular level, there is still much more to learn, especially concerning the developmental control of telomerase activity.
KEY WORDS: plants, telomerase, telomere, chromosomes, plant development.