If you’ve ever grown carrots in your garden and puzzled over never once seeing them flower, don’t blame a missing green thumb.
Carrots, beets and many other plants won’t flower until they’ve gone through winter. The extended cold gives them the signal to flower quickly once spring arrives, providing the plants an edge in the race to produce seeds.
But cold isn’t always required. In the 1930s, two English scientists discovered that some crops in the grass family, like rye or wheat, can use short days instead of cold to tell them when winter has come.
“But nothing was known about how it works,” says Rick Amasino, a professor of biochemistry and genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Now, more than 80 years later, Daniel Woods and others in Amasino’s group have finally discovered how grasses count the short days of winter to prepare for flowering. In most plants, a protein called florigen induces flowering during the lengthening days of spring and summer. Grasses have multiple copies of the florigen gene, thanks to an ancient duplication in their genomes. One of those copies has been repurposed to be expressed during the short days of winter, giving some grasses a new way to prepare for spring.
The work is published Jan. 8 in the journal eLife. The new research provides valuable insight into how winter-adapted grasses gain the ability to flower in spring, which could be helpful for improving crops, like winter wheat, that rely on this process.
To read more about this research, see the link below.