Copyright © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Telomeres are specialized nucleoprotein caps that protect chromosome ends assuring cell division. Single-cell telomere quantification in animals established a critical role for telomerase in stem cells, yet, in plants, telomere-length quantification has been reported only at the organ level. Here, a quantitative analysis of telomere length of single cells in Arabidopsis root apex uncovered a heterogeneous telomere-length distribution of different cell lineages showing the longest telomeres at the stem cells. The defects in meristem and stem cell renewal observed in tert mutants demonstrate that telomere lengthening by TERT sets a replicative limit in the root meristem. Conversely, the long telomeres of the columella cells and the premature stem cell differentiation plt1,2 mutants suggest that differentiation can prevent telomere erosion. Overall, our results indicate that telomere dynamics are coupled to meristem activity and continuous growth, disclosing a critical association between telomere length, stem cell function, and the extended lifespan of plants.