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Spring Switch

Study sheds light on plants' 'spring switch'


Researchers have identified the genetic "switch" that triggers the flowering process in plants as they respond to warmer temperatures.

They found that a gene, known as PIF4, activated the flowering pathway when a certain temperature was achieved.

The team added that the findings could be used in future research to improve crops' resilience to projected changes in the climate.

Details of the study have been published in the journal Nature.

Dr Wigge said that there were two mechanisms that allowed plants to respond to the arrival of spring: measuring day-length and changes in temperature.

"The switch we discovered is to do with the second one, and helps shed light on how plants know when it is getting warmer," he told BBC News.

"This gene is remarkable because it is only active when it is warm. If you cool the plant down, it has no effect. The gene works in such a way that it is only on in the warm.

"When there are higher temperatures, it activates the target genes and switches on the flowering process."

For their study, the researchers used Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant native to Europe, Asia and northern parts of Africa.

It was the first plant species to have its genome sequenced, Dr Wigge said, making it a "terrific tool" for molecular biologists.