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Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute discover how a plant times its flowering cycle

Two scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have described how a plant grown in their laboratory uses two sets of proteins to detect the seasons so that it can flower at the right time. And by tinkering with those proteins, the scientists were able to make the plant flower at will.

"We have demonstrated, for the first time, how plants can anticipate the seasons so that they can flower appropriately," says Marcelo Yanovsky, Ph.D., who is a research associate at TSRI and the lead author of the study.

The work should have special relevance to agriculture because the appropriate seasonal control of flowering is a major determinant of crop productivity. The same technology might be used to make certain crops bear fruit faster and in larger and more nutritious yields.

Yanovsky, and TSRI Cell Biology Professor Steve Kay, Ph.D., describe this work in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

How Plants Keep Their Own Appointment Books

Anticipating the seasons is but one of the strategies plants have evolved as a means to cope with the various challenges of their environment.

One of the most obvious changes in the environment is the seasonal variations in weather. Because of the stark seasonal differences in weather in most climates--with long days of burning sunlight in summer and wet, dark, and freezing conditions in winter--plants that have adapted the ability to flower at the best possible time would have had an advantage in evolution.

Scientists have known since the 1920s, when researchers first began experimenting with growing plants under artificial light, that plants flower following a "photoperiodic response"--they flower in seasons when they detect the correct day length. However, until the recent study by Yanovsky and Kay, nobody knew precisely how the plants accomplished this timing.

The timing takes place on the level of individual cells, where circadian "clock" genes have expression
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Contact: Keith McKeown
kmckeown@scripps.edu
858-784-8134
Scripps Research Institute
18-Sep-2002


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