Reset plants’ clock to wintertime

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — A circadian clock helps plants know when it’s time to kick their tolerance to freezing temperatures into high gear.

The new research should help in the development of “designer plants” that can withstand extreme stress brought on by weather and drought.

All living things—human, animals, plants, microbes—are influenced by rhythms, physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle.

“The integration of cold-signaling pathways with the circadian clock may have been an important evolutionary event that has contributed to plant adaptation to cold environments,” says Michael Thomashow, professor of molecular genetics at Michigan State University.

Stresses, including extreme temperatures and water deficit, are major factors that limit the geographical locations where food and potential bioenergy crops can be grown.

New research led to the identification of the CBF response pathway, a stress pathyway found in plants that plays a major role in freezing and drought tolerance. Reducing extremes will increase where crops can be grown and their yields.

Details are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Identifying the circadian clock’s influence helps answer a major question that had been puzzling researchers regarding the CBF pathway and how plants sense changes in temperature and other environmental conditions that regulate the activity of the pathway, Thomashow says.

“Increasing the abiotic stress tolerance of crops is integral to keeping food production apace with the increasing world population and to the national vision of replacing a significant proportion of petroleum-based transportation fuels with renewal biofuels.”

Thomashow’s research is supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

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