Remember plants? Biologists from the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham have discovered a mechanism that allows flowering plants to sense and “remember” changes in the environment. The study, published in Nature Communications, reveals a potential new possibilities of breeding new varieties of plants, including cereals and vegetables, which can adapt to different environmental conditions.
Memory function of plants allows them to coordinate their development in response to stress or the changing of the seasons. For example, many plants I remember long cold winters, which ensures that they will be able to bloom only in the spring when I get back the warmer temperatures. One of the ways to “remember” this group of proteins PRC2. In the cold, these proteins form a complex, and set the plant into the flowering mode. It is not clear how PRC2 detect changes in the environment, in order to ensure that activation occurs only when necessary.
Plants remember the cold
A new study sheds light on the function of “perceiving the environment” PRC2 proteins.
Scientists have discovered that the main component of the complex VRN2 protein is extremely unstable. At higher temperatures and excess oxygen protein VRN2 constantly split. When the environmental conditions become more complex, for example, when the plant is flooded and the oxygen level is low, VRN2 becomes stable and increases survival. VRN2 protein also accumulates in the cold. This enables the PRC2 complex to start flowering when the temperature rises. Scientists investigated the reasons for this and found a surprising similarity between the responses of plants to cold and low oxygen that occurs during a flood.
“Plants have a remarkable ability to perceive and remember changes in the environment that allows them to control their life cycle,” explains lead author Dr. Daniel Gibbs, from the school of biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham. “VRN2 is continuously degraded, when not needed, but it is stored under the right environmental conditions. Thus, VRN2 directly recognizes and responds to signals from the environment, and RPC2 remains inactive until needed.”
“Maybe this mechanism could be used to create plants that are better adapted to different environmental scenarios, it is important in the context of climate change”.
Interestingly, animals also have complex PRC2, but no stable protein VRN2. This system seems to have evolved in flowering plants. Perhaps it gives them more flexibility and ability to adapt, because they are fixed in the ground and can’t move.