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Manipulating plants' internal clock offers possibility of all-season crops


September 6, 2011

Yale University researchers have now identified a key genetic gear that keeps the circadian clock in plants ticking

Yale University researchers have now identified a key genetic gear that keeps the circadian clock in plants ticking

Circadian rhythms are a roughly 24-hour cycle governing biochemical, physiological, or behavioral processes that have been widely observed not only in humans, but other animals, fungi, cyanobacteria and plants. In plants, circadian rhythms help synchronize biological processes with day and night to control photosynthesis, tell the plant what season it is, and the best time to flower to attract insects. Yale University researchers have now identified a key genetic gear that keeps the circadian clock in plants ticking, offering the prospect of engineering plants that can grow all year round and in locations where that's not currently possible.

Scientists have known for some time that plants' circadian clocks operate through the cooperative relationship between "morning" genes and "evening" genes. Proteins encoded by the morning genes suppress evening genes at daybreak, but by nightfall the levels of these proteins drop and evening genes are activated again. These evening genes are actually necessary to turn the morning genes on and complete the 24-hour cycle, but scientists weren't certain of the exact processes involved. By identifying the gene DET1 as crucial in helping to suppress expression of the evening genes in the circadian cycle, the Yale researchers have solved one of the last remaining mysteries in this process.

"Plants that make less DET1 have a faster clock and they take less time to flower," said On Sun Lau, a former Yale graduate student who is now at Stanford University and is lead author of the study that appears in the Sept. 2 issue of the journal Molecular Cell. "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."

"Farmers are limited by the seasons, but by understanding the circadian rhythm of plants, which controls basic functions such as photosynthesis and flowering, we might be able to engineer plants that can grow in different seasons and places than is currently possible," added Xing Wang Deng, the Daniel C. Eaton Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale and senior author of the paper.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Fantastic. This is a great application of Biomimicry. Another promising prospect is hybridisation. Hybridisation between rice and bamboo can be a major breakthrough in having perennial rice crop. as both belong to the same Graminesia family.

Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Let me see now... in a globally interconnected world (AKA \"the web of life\" AKA Gaia), scientists think it\'s a good idea to create a plant that does NOT operate on the same circadian rhythms that the rest of Mother Nature operates on.

I think the potential unintended consequences of this... on all the elements of nature that these plants could be in touch with... could be quite extraordinarily bad.

How would you feel if someone figured out a way to reengineer you so that you never went to sleep... all in the interest of creating a \"more productive workforce\"? After all, why should people sleep? They are needed on the factory floor!

There is a reason why ALL things in nature - including people - go through cycles of rest. And the scientists who either (a) don\'t recognize this or (b) don\'t think it matters (because, after all, these are \"only\" plants), really should take a hard look in the mirror; because then they might notice that it is NOT God who is looking back at them.

Give it a rest, my scientific friends... literally!!!

Steve Brant

But Mother Nature had it all worked out! Even allowed quiet winters for the farmers to recuperate, play and enjoy life! Corporatists/Capitalists don\'t like this, their great chemical endeavors are to futher work man, enslave him, for thier own ends, usually war, or gluttony, luxury and sloth for themselves. Even Christ cleared the Temples of the money changers, while America invited them in to do their ugly business! I don\'t understand.

Bruce Miller
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