Menu
Science blog
Map of the universe years in the making
Rogue bug may cause IVF failure
Technology decodes Alhambra inscriptions
Sonar causes deafness in dolphins
GM stem cells treat autoimmune disease
Nickel crash kick-started evolution
GPS inhalers track asthma triggers
Urban design turning kids off being active
Cleaning up oil spills can be bad for fish
Fluoro sensors to monitor recycled water
First cloned camel born in Dubai
Cephalopods share common toxic armoury
New evidence of aspirin risk for elderly
Salmonella vaccine could come from space
Porpoise-like sub swims with the current
Microbes thrive on iron under the ice
Blinking tower lights could save birds
Tradition can curb climate change: meeting
Coolest brown dwarf in universe found
'Silent' heart attacks quite common: study
World's land slipping in quality
Warning over 'natural' menopause therapies
Complex life pushed back in time
Lice may suppress asthma, allergies
  Researchers find grain's memory gene
Plants use a genetic memory to recognise when it is spring and can even count the number of cold days, Australian plant scientists have revealed.

In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers show how winter cereal crops recognise when it is time to start flowering.

Co-author Dr Jim Peacock of CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra says the findings could, in the future, help scientists genetically adapt wheat to remain productive under changing environments.

Peacock says winter cereal crops need exposure to an extended period of cold weather to begin flowering, a process known as vernalisation.

He says, the study builds on an earlier CSIRO discovery that a gene known as VRN1, which is the master switch that controls flowering in cereals such as wheat and barley.

In the latest paper, Peacock and colleagues show how the VRN1 gene is activated in winter cereals, and reveal a "molecular memory" that is passed on from cell to cell in the plant's development.

"The remarkable thing is it is not a change to the genetic code," says Peacock, but rather a major shift in gene pathways controlled by chemical changes to the chromatin of the gene.
Molecular memory

Chromatin consist of DNA and balls of protein known as histones.

Peacock says with exposure to the cold, certain chemical conditions modify the histones and change the way chromatin is packaged, causing it to become active.

He says the plants retain a "molecular memory" of the prolonged cold of winter, which is reset in each new generation to ensure it is able to respond to vernalisation.

"Each generation of winter wheat has to go through the cold period before it can flower," he says.

"The plant has this strategy to ensure it flowers and develops in the best weather conditions."

He says the team, led by CSIRO plant scientist Dr Sandra Oliver, also found the plant responds to longer days.

In laboratory experiments the researchers also found if the wheat was exposed to a very short cold snap, the flowering response was reduced.
Unknowns

Peacock says there are still many aspects behind vernalisation that is yet to be fully understood.

He says the team has yet to determine how the plant "counts" or the optimum number of cold days needed.

Although gene activity can be detected within several days of cold weather, up to six to eight weeks of cold temperatures was needed for a strong flowering response, says Peacock.

But he adds cropping industries will benefit from the work, as climate change alters conditions in traditional growing areas.

"You can either have potential changes in grain-growing areas, or teach the plant to accept the changes in the climate," he says.
Roads kill more than malaria: study
Seagrass link to seahorse upright posture
Black band disease hits Great Barrier Reef
Hobbit feet reignite debate
Lizards soak up sunshine vitamin
Canada sequences swine flu virus
Termites are a miner's best friend
'Hide and seek' costly to HIV
Giant trilobites had complex social lives
Midnight sun too much for some
More toxics added to 'dirty dozen' list
Rogue galaxies prompt rethink on Newton
Acupuncture relieves back pain: study
Blazars shed light on black hole physics
Unfaithful offspring get head start
Daydreamers might solve problems faster
Coal supply may be vastly overestimated
Science and unis are winners in the budget
Heartbeat key for blood growth in embryos
Neck pain worse for women in the office
Busty figurine a 'Paleolithic Playboy'
Plant cells help bees get a grip
Space trio to give sharper view of cosmos
Sea creatures inspire CO2 sponge
Genetic link between period onset and BMI
Researchers find bacteria in clouds
Sustainable farm research 'under threat'
Tree leaves monitor pollution levels
Menu
Stay upright during labour, say experts
Antarctic ice growth linked to ozone hole
Fires fuelling global warming: study
Methane climate shock 'less likely'
Genome map reveals cow's genetic makeup
Microbe bubble machine stores energy
Stress gives reef fish wonky ears
Swine flu remains a mystery
Perception is in the ear of the beholder
Solar wind gives asteroids a tanning
Researchers find grain's memory gene
PET bottles potential health hazard
Researchers find first common autism gene
Fossil fuel use must fall to 25%: study
'WaveRider' poised for hypersonic flight
Big cuttlefish 'at risk' from desalination
Glaciers show north-south climate divide
Mobile phones help cardiac rehab
Dancing birds feel the beat
Mushrooms may yield vitamin D bonanza
Dingoes may be a native's best friend
Dud treatments more easily spread
U2 comet dust predates solar system
Australian CO2 delay sends 'mixed message'