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Plant Chimeras: the good, the bad, and the Bizzaria

By Margaret H Frank, Daniel H. Chitwood

Posted 28 Jun 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/060715 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2016.07.003)

Chimeras, organisms that are composed of cells of more than one genotype, captured the human imagination long before they were formally described and used in the laboratory. These organisms owe their namesake to a fire-breathing monster from Greek mythology that has the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. The first description of a non-fictional chimera dates back to the middle of the seventeenth century when the Florentine gardener Pietro Nati discovered an adventitious shoot growing from the graft junction between sour orange (Citrus aurantium) and citron (C. medica). This perplexing chimera that grows with sectors phenotypically resembling each of the citrus progenitors inspired discussion and wonder from the scientific community and was fittingly named the Bizzaria. Initially, the Bizzaria was believed to be an asexual hybrid that formed from a cellular fusion between the grafted parents; however, in-depth cellular analyses carried out centuries later demonstrated that the Bizzaria, along with other chimeras, owe their unique sectored appearance to a conglomeration of cells from the two donors. Since this pivotal discovery at the turn of the twentieth century, chimeras have served both as tools and as unique biological phenomena that have contributed to our understanding of plant development at the cellular, tissue, and organismal level. Rapid advancements in genome sequencing technologies have enabled the establishment of new model species with novel morphological and developmental features that enable the generation of chimeric organisms. In this review, we show that genetic mosaic and chimera studies provide a technologically simple way to delve into the organismal, genetic, and genomic inner workings underlying the development of diverse model organisms. Moreover, we discuss the unique opportunity that chimeras present to explore universal principles governing intercellular communication and the coordination of organismal biology in a heterogenomic landscape.

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