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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Discover How Plants Erase Winter Memories

October 1, 2014

Scientists from John Innes Center (JIC) and Chinese Academy of Sciences discovered how the memory of cold, which is important for flowering, is deleted every generation in plants. The results are published in Nature in a paper titled Epigenetic reprogramming that prevents transgenerational inheritance of the vernalized state.

Plants monitor the temperature during winter and slowly switches off a gene that functions as a brake to flowering as temperatures decline. This gene stays off during summer and spring so plants continue to flower. Thus, the gene naturally switches off by cold. This process is called vernalization and is vital for producing high yields if winter-sown varieties of several crops such as wheat.

A previous study by JIC scientists discovered how plants remember they have experienced winter, and the new study elucidated how this memory is deleted between generations. They have found that ELF6 gene is important to delete the silencing and get full re-expression of the brake in Arabidopsis.

"Understanding the epigenetic switching mechanisms underlying these environmental responses opens up many possibilities. We can now fully dissect how plants adapt to different environments – so important for breeding new crop varieties that will continue to give high yield as our climate changes," Prof. Dean explains.

Read the media release at