Tweaking plants’ bio-clock can revolutionise food output

Tweaking the biological clock of plants could make global food shortages a thing of the past.

“Farmers are limited by the seasons, but by understanding the circadian rhythm of plants…we might be able to engineer plants that can grow in different seasons and places than is currently possible,” said Xing Wang Deng at Yale University.

Deng is pofessor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale and senior study author, the journal Molecular Cell reports.

This bio-clock is the internal timekeeper found in almost all organisms that helps synchronize biological processes with day and night. Within plants, it is crucial for adjusting growth to both time and day and to the seasons, according to a Yale statement.

The clock operates through the link between “morning” genes and “evening” genes. Proteins encoded by the morning genes suppress evening genes at daybreak, but by night these proteins levels drop and evening genes are activated.

Intriguingly, these evening genes are necessary to turn on morning genes completing the 24-hour cycle. Yale researchers identified gene DET1 as crucial in helping to suppress expression of the evening genes in the circadian cycle.

“Plants that make less DET1 have a faster clock and take less time to flower,” said On Sun Lau, former Yale graduate student who is now at Stanford University.

“Knowing the components of the plant’s circadian clock and their roles would assist in the selection or generation of valuable traits in crop and ornamental plants,” adds Lau.

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