Salk scientists have defined a new pathway that controls how plants flower in response to shaded, crowded conditions, and their findings may have implications for increasing yield in crops ranging from rice to wheat.
The study, published in the June 19 issue of Nature, was led by Salk professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Joanne Chory and Salk/Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral fellow Pablo Cerdán. "The mechanism that leads to plants flowering early in response to shaded conditions has largely been unknown," said Chory. "And this is a major problem for crops, which are planted at high density and often shade each other in the field. By understanding this process, we may someday be able to control plant flowering responses to shade and, in turn, increase the yield of crops."
The Salk researchers focused on what is known in plants as the "shade-avoidance syndrome." When plants grow in high density, they perceive a decrease in the relative amounts of incoming red light to light of other wavelengths. This change of light serves as a warning for competition, prodding the plants to flower and create seeds. The byproduct of this process is that plant stems grow longer and leaf volume declines, leading to decreases in biomass and yield.
Robert Bradford | Salk Institute
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