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"Climate change is threatening crop yields worldwide, yet little is known about how global warming will confuse normal plant physiology. Researchers in the UK now show that higher temperatures accelerate seed dispersal in crop species belonging to the cabbage and mustard plant family, limiting reproductive success, and this effect is mediated by a gene called INDEHISCENT. The findings appear February 12 in the journal Molecular Plant. "In many crops, such as oilseed rape, premature seed dispersal is one of the major causes of crop loss. In the context of climate change, this could become increasingly severe," says co-senior author Vinod Kumar, a plant developmental biologist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England. "This study exposes the potential vulnerabilities of crop production in the warming world and paves the way for addressing this problem." Plants have an extraordinary ability to adjust their life cycle to suit a range of environmental conditions. For example, despite day-to-day changes in weather and temperature, the release of seeds stays in tune with prevailing seasonal conditions. "Seed dispersal is also a key trait that must be controlled when domesticating plants for food production," says co-senior author Lars Østergaard, a plant geneticist at the John Innes Centre. "With the prospect of climate change affecting crop performance, we wanted to understand how environmental signals such as temperature affect seed dispersal."...They found that a rise in temperature, from 22ºC to 27ºC, accelerated pod shattering and seed dispersal in Arabidopsis plants and important Brassicaceae crops such as oilseed rape, a key ingredient in vegetable oil. Moreover, elevated temperatures accelerated seed dispersal by enhancing the expression of the INDEHISCENT gene, which is known to regulate the development of seed pod tissue and promote fruit opening...Based on their study, the research team suggests new strategies for preparing crops for global warming. For example, plant breeding efforts could focus on developing temperature-resilient varieties capable of coping with climate change. In addition, gene-editing tools, such as the CRISPR/Cas system, could be used to reduce the expression of the INDEHISCENT gene, thereby delaying seed release and reducing crop loss."

Posted February 12th, 2018
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