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Barley takes a leaf out of reindeer's book in the land of the midnight sun
Date:5/11/2012

Barley grown in Scandinavian countries is adapted in a similar way to reindeer to cope with the extremes of day length at high latitudes. Researchers have found a genetic mutation in some Scandinavian barley varieties that disrupts the circadian clock that barley from southern regions use to time their growing season. Just as reindeer have dropped the clock in adapting to extremely long days, so has Scandinavian barley to grow successfully in that region's short growing season. This new knowledge may be useful in efforts to adapt crops for regions where the growing season is short.

The timing of when a plant flowers during the year is crucial to its overall survival and fitness, and in crop plants it has major affects on the overall yield. Barley's wild ancestors and modern winter barley varieties germinate in the autumn, but don't flower until after winter has finished. One stimulus that triggers flowering is the longer days that come with spring.

To know how long the day is, the plant uses its built in circadian clock, with which they time a 24 hour period. Circadian clocks are found throughout the plant and animal kingdom, and affect all manner of processes such as when animals eat and sleep, or when plants photosynthesise. As anyone who has suffered jet lag knows, anything that disrupts the circadian clock of an organism causes big problems, which is why when researchers from the John Innes Centre and the Max Planck Institute sought to characterise Scandinavian barley varieties, they were surprised to find a mutant gene that knocked out the circadian clock and its functions.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that by disrupting the circadian clock Scandinavian barley varieties flower independently of the length of the day. This means that they flower much earlier than their southern counterparts and so can fit their growth cycle into the shorter growing season.

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Contact: Andrew Chapple
andrew.chapple@nbi.ac.uk
01-603-251-490
Norwich BioScience Institutes
Source:Eurekalert  

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