Sunday, April 11, 2010

How Do Plants Know its Spring?

The simple beauty of blossoms is made possible through a complex genetic process that tells plants to stop making leaves and start making flowers, according to research published in the issue of the journal Science.

Without calendars, plants don't know its April but they can sense weather, temperature and length of day.

All this information is routed through many pathways to protein AP1. While AP1 doesn't tell the plant it's time to flower, it flicks the switch that starts the process of blossoming. Plants have their own personal preferences for blooming time, perhaps because the genetic pathways that carry environmental information are organized or integrated slightly differently.

This process is critical. Almost everything we eat is a plant, or something that just ate a plant. Flowering time is one of the most important traits in breeding because it affects the yield of crops. Too early and you are killed by frost; too late and you are killed by heat.

Eventually, this information can be used for genetic tinkering to alter flowering times, predicted Dubcovsky. This is particularly important in a changing environment, with global climate change. Breeders will need to readjust flowering times and the knowledge of the genes that regulate flowering will allow them to engineer the desired times more precisely.