Biological switch underlies memory of winter in plants

An organism is able to create a memory of some variable condition, such as quality of nutrition or temperature, with the help of a biological switch, which it inherits from its parents, a new research has found.

The work was led by Professor Martin Howard and Professor Caroline Dean at the John Innes Centre.

“There are quite a few examples that we now know of where the activity of genes can be affected in the long term by environmental factors,” said Professor Dean.

“And in some cases the environment of an individual can actually affect the biology or physiology of their offspring but there is no change to the genome sequence.”

The team used the example of how plants “remember” the length of the cold winter period in order to exquisitely time flowering so that pollination, development, seed dispersal and germination can all happen at the appropriate time.

“We already knew quite a lot about the genes involved in flowering and it was clear that something goes on in winter that affects the timing of flowering, according to the length of the cold period,” said Professor Howard.

The study has been published in the journal Nature.

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