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 questsone of the most well-known examples being the legendary search by Ponce de Len 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 plantand 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 (http://www.amjbot.org/content/99/12/1891.full.pdf+html).
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.
In their paper, Tomlinson and Huggett emphasize that in m
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American Journal of Botany