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Chinese biologists discover molecule behind bamboo flowering cycle

A team of Chinese biologists has discovered the molecule responsible for the coordination of the different genes involved in the mass flowering cycles of bamboo, a key food for panda bears.

The research could help explain the mass flowering of bamboo, a process that has raised more questions than answers and is especially sensitive in China since the plant is the food for pandas, China’s national symbol.

Chinese scientists have found a ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecule called ‘dla-miR18′ which they think plays a central role in the coordination of the more than 200 genes suspected of participating in the mass flowering cycles of bamboo.

“The performance of dla-miR18 is very eye-catching. After flowering, its level can increase to 100 times its pre-flowering level,” the director of the study, Guo Zhenhua, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Kunming Institute of Botany.

The scientists’ findings were published in Plant Molecular Biology Reporter late last year.

The team led by Guo has been working with bamboo since 2007 in the Chinese province of Yunnan, although the biggest difficulty has been the process of flowering since this plant take decades to flourish.

Guo acknowledged that its discovery is only the first step and more experiments are needed to delve into the mechanism of dla miR18’s operation.

Massive flowering cycles of bamboo are a natural phenomenon that occur approximately every half a century and of which few details are known.

The plants bloom only once and then die, which can deprive pandas of their basic food, something that happened in the 1980s killing 40 percent of the species.

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Xu-Yao Zhao, Xiao-Yan Wang, Lei Zhao, Xue-Mei Zhang, Si-Yun Chen, Peng-Fei Ma, Xiang-Yang Hu, De-Zhu Li, Zhen-Hua Guo. Investigating the MicroRNAomes of Two Developmental Phases of Dendrocalamus latiflorus (Poaceae: Bambusoideae) Inflorescences. Plant Molecular Biology Reporter, DOI: 10.1007/s11105-014-0808-z

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