How do Plants ?Know? When to Flower? New research

Scientists studying the genes of a little mustard-like plant called ‘Arabidopsis’ think they may have finally found out just how plants know when to flower, solving a mystery which has bugged scientists for 80 years.

Scientists from the University of Washington and our very own University of Edinburgh worked in tandem to study the protein ‘FKF1’, which they suspected might hold the key.

Arabidopsis_thaliana-flower

And it's pretty too!

The release of FKF1 is regulated by plants’ ‘circadian clock’. The circadian clock is a name for the complex system which plants’ and animals’ bodies use to tell which time of day it is. Because the length of the day changes throughout the year, the circadian clock is vital to regulate biological processes across 24-hour-periods, allowing people, plants and animals to adjust to the changing seasons.

The new work on FKF1 shows that it is important for controlling FLOWERING LOCUST T – nothing to do with locusts – which induces flowering. Takato Imaizumi of the University of Washington explains:

“The FKF1 photoreceptor protein we've been working on is expressed in the late afternoon every day, and is very tightly regulated by the plant's circadian clock,” Imaizumi said. “When this protein is expressed during days that are short, this protein cannot be activated, as there is no daylight in the late afternoon. When this protein is expressed during a longer day, this photoreceptor makes use of the light and activates the flowering mechanisms involving FLOWERING LOCUS T. The circadian clock regulates the timing of the specific photoreceptor for flowering. That is how plants sense differences in day length.”

The new research goes far beyond just being fascinating news for flower lovers like us at Clare; potential uses for this knowledge include breeding varieties of rice, wheat and barley with a higher crop yield, helping farmers around the world.

Imaizumi

Takato Imaizumi and Young Hun Song. Image: University of Washington

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