Long sought-after flowering signal found

ow identified a molecule, called FT, that has all the hallmarks of florigen. The FT gene is induced in leaves within hours after plants receive a stimulus that promotes flowering, but its product, the FT protein, acts at the growing tips of the plant to activate the flowering process.

The teams had been studying the FT gene, using the small mustard plant Arabidopsis. Although they knew that FT was a potent inducer of flowering, it was unclear how it influenced genes that control the formation of flowers. The breakthrough came with the discovery that FT protein binds to another protein, FD. FD in turn directly acts on genes that turn groups of unspecialised stem cells into flower buds. The FD protein, which in contrast to FT is produced at the tips of branches, is only active when bound by FT protein. Since the FT gene is induced in leaves, but FT protein acts at a distant site, the tip of branches, the authors conclude that the small FT protein must be moving from one place to the other, making it the best known candidate for the mysterious florigen molecule. It remains to be seen whether FT travels directly all the way from leaves to the branch tips, or whether a relay mechanism is involved.

"We discovered the FT gene in the late 1990s, but couldn't figure out for many years how this small protein controlled the activity of genes that make flowers. Once we saw that FT needs the FD protein, which is present at the growing point of a plant, it made perfect sense," explains Detlef Weigel, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. "Only when FT and FD join forces in the same cell can they be active."

"The transition to flowering is one of the most important decisions made by plants. It has to be carefully controlled according to the seasons," says Philip Wigge, who recently moved from the Max Planck Institute to become a Group Leader at the John Innes Centre. "For example, plants that need to be fertilized by pollen from

Contact: Detlef Weigel

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