Temperature Sensitive Genes Tell Flowers to Open

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Spring (and in many parts summer) is in the air. And in flower genes too.

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Although the response of plants to the length of daylight hours was established decades ago, the means by which plants respond to temperature was still largely a mystery. A study published in Nature found DNA clues to the conundrum.

Biologists found a genetically regulated chemical pathway that influences plants response to temperature. That pathway seems to be hardwired into plant’s genes. A hardwired response to warmth could have serious consequences for foliage in a warming world.

Just ask the daffodils in my front yard that bloomed in early March. The winter-less winter in the United States may have thrown the plants biological mechanisms for a loop.

“Our findings explain at the molecular level what we observe in our gardens as the warmer temperatures of spring arrive,” one of the study’s authors, Phil Wigge, a biologist at the John Innes Centre said in the Telegraph.

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“It also explains why plants are flowering earlier as a result of climate change,” Wigge said.

If important food crops react to early springs by flowering earlier, one danger is that they may not be adapted to damage from spring weather patterns or to the behaviors of pollinators. Poorly adapted food crops could mean a lean plate set before a hungry world.

The next step, after understanding temperature’s effect on plants, is for farmers and agronomist to figure out what to do about it as the planet gets warmer.

“Knowing the key players in the temperature response pathways will be a valuable tool for safeguarding food security in an era of climate change,” Wigge said.

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Genetic engineering could allow crop breeders to leapfrog over evolution and change the DNA sequences related to flowering times, but many people fear transgenic crops and the massive corporations that have the resources to produce and distribute them.

IMAGE:

A crocus blooms in early spring in Germany (4028mdk09, Wikimedia Commons)