Researchers developing climate-resilient crops

Posted on Monday 22nd April 2013

Dr Ianis Matsoukas

Researchers at the University of Bolton have made a molecular-level discovery in plants that could lead to the development of crops that are more resilient to climate change.

Dr Ianis Matsoukas is a molecular physiologist and biology lecturer at University of Bolton. He and his research team from Bolton and the University of Warwick have discovered why, at a molecular level, plants are unable to flower during the juvenile phase of plant development.

After germination, many flowering plant species enter a juvenile phase where they cannot bloom. This is known as juvenility. Many plants also control when they flower to coincide with particular seasons by responding to the length of the day, a process known as photoperiodism. This means some plants need long days and flower in summer, while others need shorter days and are able to flower in spring or autumn.

Dr Matsoukas and his team have discovered that during juvenility the appearance of a protein in the plants, known as Flowering Locus T, is repressed. This protein is a vital part of the flowering process and at the end of juvenility the repression is lifted. This could explain why juvenile plants are unable to flower. The team also found that sugars are actively involved in this process.

This is a fundamental discovery and one that could lead to the development of crops that are resilient to the diverse whether conditions attributed to climate change.

Dr Matsoukas explains: ‘Being able to understand and ultimately control juvenility will enable more predictable flowering, better scheduling and reduced wastage of crops.

‘In addition, knowing the mechanism gives us the tools to increase crop yield by accelerating or delaying time to flowering. This might also lead to higher yields of plants grown for biofuels and pulp production.’

By understanding how plants regulate juvenility in relation to light quality and quantity, carbon dioxide and temperature, the team aims to breed crops which are more resilient to climate change.

Dr Matsoukas added: ‘Understanding the genetic mechanisms by which environment regulates juvenility and flowering time has significant scientific, economic and practical implications. Knowing the key players involved in these plant developmental events will be a valuable tool for safeguarding food security in an era of climate change.’