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Sun May 27, 2012 1:17PM

University of Washington researchers have identified a protein as the key factor contributing to the 80-year-old puzzle of plants’ flowering at the proper time. To reproduce successfully, a sequence of molecular events occur at specific times of the year when the plant produces a protein known as Flowering Locust in their leaves that induces flowering, researchers observed. The protein then moves from the leaves to the shoot apex, a part of the plant where cells are undifferentiated; there, they can either become leaves or flowers. According to a paper published in Science, understanding the flowering process in a simple plant can lead to a better understanding of how the same genes work in more complex plants such as rice, wheat and barley that are grown as crops. "If we can regulate the timing of flowering, we might be able to increase crop yield by accelerating or delaying this. Knowing the mechanism gives us the tools to manipulate this," said Takato Imaizumi, the biology assistant professor of the University of Washington. Scientists found that plants use an internal time-keeping mechanism known as the circadian clock to synchronize the biological processes during 24-hour periods as it happens in people, animals and other organisms. Imaizumi identified FKF1 protein, which seems to be a key player in the mechanism by which plants recognize seasonal changes and when to flower. "The FKF1 photoreceptor protein we've been working on is expressed in the late afternoon every day, and is very tightly regulated by the plant's circadian clock," Imaizumi said. "When this protein is expressed during days that are short, this protein cannot be activated, as there is no daylight in the late afternoon. When this protein is expressed during a longer day, by using the light activates the flowering mechanisms,” he explained. This system prevents the plants from flowering in poor times to reproduce, such as the dead of winter when days are short and nights are long. To achieve the findings, the researchers studied Arabidopsis, a small plant in the mustard family that is often used in genetic research. FGP/PKH
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