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Dartmouth research: The clocks are ticking and the climate is changing

Dartmouth plant biologist C. Robertson (Rob) McClung is not your typical clock-watcher. His clocks are internal, biological, and operate in circadian rhythmscycles based on a 24-hour period. Living organisms depend upon these clocks to keep pace with the Earth's daily rotation and the recurring changes it imposes on the environment. These clocks allow the plant or animal to anticipate the changes and adapt to them by modifying its biology, behavior, and biochemistry.

"If you know that the sun is going to go down, and if you are a photosynthetic plant, you have to readjust your metabolism in order to make it through the night," says McClung.

Seeking Knowledge Among the Weeds

McClung, the Patricia F. and William B. Hale 1944 Professor in the Arts and Sciences, uses the Arabidopsis plant in his research on the mechanisms that affect plant behavior and its genetics. He jokingly refers to it as "an inconsequential little weed," but holds it in high esteem as an experimental test bed.

According to the National Institutes of Health, this member of the mustard family is the model organism for studies of the cellular and molecular biology of flowering plants. "Because plants are closely related, it is quite likely that knowledge derived from Arabidopsis studies can be readily transferred to agronomically important species," says McClung.

Water and the Changing Climate

McClung sees internal clocks as increasingly important in the face of global climate change, and to agricultural productivity in particular. "In the context of climate change and the need to exploit increasingly marginal habitats, fuller understanding of clock mechanisms may offer strategies to improve crop productivity," says McClung. "We need to know how an organism measures time and how it uses that information to coordinate its physiology and behavior."

Water is the landscape on which biological clocks and c

Contact: Amy Olson
Dartmouth College

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