Do plants remember? Biologists from the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham have discovered a mechanism that allows flowering plants to feel and “remember” changes in the environment. A study published in Nature Communications reveals potential new breeding opportunities for new plant varieties, including cereals and vegetables, that can adapt to different environmental conditions.
The plant memory function allows them to precisely coordinate their development in response to stress or seasons. For example, many plants remember the long cold of winter, which ensures that they can only bloom in spring, when warmer temperatures return. One way to “remember” is a group of PRC2 proteins. In the cold, these proteins form a complex and switch the plant to flowering mode. It is not entirely clear how PRC2 detects 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 “perception of the environment” proteins PRC2.
Scientists have discovered that the main component of the complex, the VRN2 protein, is extremely unstable. At higher temperatures and an excess of oxygen, the VRN2 protein continuously splits. When environmental conditions become more difficult, for example, when the plant is flooded and the oxygen level is low, VRN2 becomes stable and increases survival. The VRN2 protein also accumulates in the cold. This allows the PRC2 complex to start flowering when the temperature rises. Scientists investigated the reasons for this and found surprising similarities between the reactions of plants to cold and low oxygen content that occur during flooding.
“Plants have a remarkable ability to sense and remember changes in the environment, which 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 constantly falling apart when it is not needed, but it accumulates under the right environmental conditions. Thus, VRN2 directly recognizes and responds to signals from the environment, and RPC2 remains inactive until needed. ”
“Perhaps this mechanism could be used to create plants that are better adapted to different environmental scenarios, this is important in a changing climate.”
Remarkably, animals also have the PRC2 complex, but there is no stable protein VRN2. This system seems to have developed in flowering plants. Perhaps it gives them more flexibility and ability to adapt, because they are fixed in the ground and cannot move.