Detail of a single vascular bundle from a transverse section of the mature stem, embedded in celloidin and stained with safranin and fast green. It shows the result of sustained primary growth with the surrounding primary cells of the ground tissue extended transversely and with evidence for late cell division in their septation. Large air spaces are developed elsewhere. The fibers of the bundle cap are mature and thick walled, the inner cells towards the phloem showing their great age with tannin deposits in their walls. The article suggests that this kind of activity, which can result in a very lacunose center to a stem, contrasted with the compact and sclerotic periphery of the stem represents a division of labor between outer mechanically efficient stem tissues and inner tissues devoted to long distance transport. This division may also represent an advanced character in palm stem evolution. Because maturation of stem tissues takes place over decades or even centuries in different types of cell metabolism it is suggested that palms are, by this criterion, the longest-lived trees. (Credit: Courtesy of Brett Huggett, Harvard University; Tomlinson et al, American Journal of Botany doi: 10.3732/ajb.1200089)

Do Palm Trees Hold the Key to Immortality?

Dec. 18, 2012 — For centuries, humans have been exploring, researching, and, in some cases, discovering how to stave off life-threatening diseases, increase life spans, and obtain immortality. Biologists, doctors, spiritual gurus, and even explorers have pursued these quests — one of the most well-known examples being the legendary search by Ponce de León for the “Fountain of Youth.” Yet the key to longevity may not lie in a miraculous essence of water, but rather in the structure and function of cells within a plant — and not a special, mysterious, rare plant, but one that we may think of as being quite commonplace, even ordinary: the palm.

As an honors botany student at the University of Leeds, P. Barry Tomlinson wrote a prize-winning essay during his final year titled, “The Span of Life.” Fifty years later, Tomlinson (now a Distinguished Professor at The Kampong Garden of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Miami, FL) teamed up with graduate student Brett Huggett (Harvard University, MA) to write a review paper exploring the idea that palms may be the longest-lived tree, and whether this might be due to genetic underpinnings. Having retained his essay in his personal files, Tomlinson found that it provided an excellent literature background for working on the question of cell longevity in relation to palms. Together, Tomlinson and Huggett published their review in the December issue of the American Journal of Botany.

A component of an organism’s life span that biologists have been particularly interested in is whether longevity is genetically determined and adaptive. For botanists, discovering genetic links to increasing crop production and the reproductive lifespan of plants, especially long-lived ones such as trees, would be invaluable.

Read more: Do palm trees hold the key to immortality? — Science Daily.

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