Telomerase-independent cell survival in Arabidopsis thaliana.
Telomerase is the reverse transcriptase responsible for the maintenance of telomeric repeat sequences in most species that have been studied. Inactivation of telomerase causes telomere shortening and results in the loss of the telomere's protective function, which in mammals leads to cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis. Experiments performed on Arabidopsis thaliana mutants lacking telomerase activity revealed their unusually high tolerance for genome instability. Here we present molecular and cytogenetic analysis of two cell lines (A and B) derived from seeds of late-generation telomerase-deficient A. thaliana. These cultures have survived for about 3 years and are still viable. However, neither culture has adapted mechanisms to maintain terminal telomeric repeats. One culture (B) suffers from severe growth irregularities and a high degree of mortality. Karyological analysis revealed dramatic genomic rearrangements, a large variation in ploidy, and an extremely high percentage of anaphase bridges. The second cell line (A) survived an apparent crisis and phenotypically appears wild-type with respect to growth and morphology. Despite these indications of genome stabilization, a high percentage of anaphase bridges was observed in the A line. We conclude that the restructured chromosome termini provide the A line with partial protection from end-joining repair activities, thus allowing normal growth.