Biotech Updates

Researchers Discover Plant "Thermometer" Gene

January 8, 2010

Plants are extremely sensitive to temperature changes in their environment. They can even detect changes of as little as one degree Celsius. Just how they do so has puzzled scientists until now. New research has uncovered a "thermometer gene" that not only helps plants feel the temperature rise, but also coordinates an appropriate response.

Vinod Kumar and Phil Wigge at the John Innes Centre, reporting in the journal Cell, pinpointed the master regulator of the entire temperature transcriptome. Using the model plant Arabidopsis, the researchers showed that the key ingredient for plants' temperature sensing ability is a specialized histone protein, dubbed H2A.Z, that wraps DNA into a more tightly packed structure known as a nucleosome. H2A.Z binds the plant's DNA tightly at lower temperatures, thus preventing genes to be expressed. It loses its grip and drop off the DNA as temperature rises.

The findings may help to explain how plants will respond in the face of climate change and might help scientists develop weatherproof crops. "We'd like to engineer a plant where we can control the histones in particular tissues such that it is selectively 'blind' to different temperatures," Wigge said. "Obviously you can't make a completely temperature-proof plant, but there is a lot of scope to develop crops that are more resilient to the high temperatures we are increasingly going to experience."

The paper published by Cell is available at Read for more information.