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Gene controls plant's clock and flowering time

MADISON -- Plants have never impressed anyone with their intelligence, but they do measure the seasons and tell time. After all, a Christmas cactus blooms only in winter and an evening primrose opens just at dusk.

Now, scientists led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers report that they have discovered a gene that regulates when plants flower and is critical for keeping a plant's 24-hour clock running accurately. The researchers will publish their findings in the Friday, Sept. 6, issue of the scientific journal Nature.

The discovery adds a new piece to the still-unfinished puzzle of how plants regulate the transition from vegetative growth to flowering, and control their daily rhythmic activity. Mark Doyle, the article's lead author, says the discovery may aid agriculture, as farmers want to maximize vegetative growth from crops such as alfalfa and spinach, or control the timing of flowering and seed production.

"Our primary interest is in understanding what this new gene does to control flowering, but it may be difficult to separate that from its effects on the clock that determines plant rhythms," says Doyle, a research assistant in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Working with plant molecular biologist Richard Amasino in the Department of Biochemistry, Doyle identified the new gene, which they called early flowering 4 (ELF4).

"So far, scientists haven't found any genes similar to ELF4 outside the plant kingdom," Amasino says. "All organisms have these internal clocks, but there are different molecular mechanisms that operate them."

The Wisconsin scientists discovered the gene in Arabidopsis thaliana, a small plant used worldwide to study plant genetics, physiology and molecular biology. Arabidopsis plants typically flower quickly when days have 12 hours of light or more but take a long time to begin flowering when the day length is eight hours. Scott Michaels and Fritz Schomburg in Amasino
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Contact: Mark Doyle
markdoyle@students.wisc.edu
608-262-4640
University of Wisconsin-Madison
5-Sep-2002


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