Mother knows best — how plants help offspring by passing on seasonal clues
New research carried out by the John Innes Centre has delved into the genetic memory systems through which plants pass seasonal information down to their seeds to give them the best chance of reproductive success.
Plants integrate seasonal signals such as temperature and day length and use this memorised information to optimise the timing for key lifecycle stages.
These development transitions include flowering, seed dispersal and seed dormancy a timely tactic employed by "mother" plants to ensure seed germination happens in optimal conditions when seedling survival rate is high.
Seasonal sensing requires the activity of two well characterised genes Flowering Locus C (FLC) and Flowering Locus (FT) the former a temperature sensor that acts as a brake to flowering and the latter a daylength sensor.
Previous studies have indicated that FLC acts on FT in a linear fashion to deliver seasonal information that promotes flowering.
Now this new study led by Professor Steven Penfield of the John Innes Centre, has identified the precise mechanism by which temperature information is passed from mother to seeds.
"What is interesting about these new findings is that the same genes which control the timing of flowering also control seed germination, but act in reverse order," said Professor Penfield.
The study, which appears in the peer reviewed journal Science, shows that the two genes gather temperature information from the environment and share this with progeny during seed set.
"The mother plant uses seasonal information to control the behaviour of the progeny to optimise fitness," explains Professor Penfield
"We discovered some time ago is that the mother generates diversity, and the mechanism the mother uses is variation in temperature because as temperatures vary, plants produce seeds that are slightly different, in size, in number."
In this way, the BBSRC-funded research finds, the mother plant exploits environmental temperature variation to create diversity in seed type and behaviour – a kind of reproductive bet-hedging in which the plant uses temperature information to create a diverse and widely spread offspring.
This mechanistic insight into the model species Arabidopsis thaliana can lead to better crops, say the study authors.
"Greater understanding of how plants communicate seasonal information to their offspring will help efforts to create crops that cope better with climate change," explains Professor Penfield.
"If we understand the mechanism by which plants cause variation in progeny year to year, we can learn how to breed more stable crops," he added.
The full report:
The full findings are in the paper published today in Science: Temperature-responsive vernalisation signalling is rearranged to control plant seed dormancy.
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About the John Innes Centre
The John Innes Centre is an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology. Our mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge of nature's diversity to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health, and wellbeing, and engage with policy makers and the public.
To achieve these goals we establish pioneering long-term research objectives in plant and microbial science, with a focus on genetics. These objectives include promoting the translation of research through partnerships to develop improved crops and to make new products from microbes and plants for human health and other applications. We also create new approaches, technologies and resources that enable research advances and help industry to make new products. The knowledge, resources and trained researchers we generate help global societies address important challenges including providing sufficient and affordable food, making new products for human health and industrial applications, and developing sustainable bio-based manufacturing.
This provides a fertile environment for training the next generation of plant and microbial scientists, many of whom go on to careers in industry and academia, around the world.
The John Innes Centre is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 2015-2016 the John Innes Centre received a total of £30.1 million from the BBSRC.
The John Innes Centre is also supported by the John Innes Foundation through provision of research accommodation and long-term support of the Rotation PhD programme.
The John Innes Centre is the winner of the BBSRC's 2013 – 2016 Excellence with Impact award.
For more information about the John Innes Centre visit our website http://www.jic.ac.uk
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals
For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk
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