AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've identified a molecule that helps plants "remember" winter and wait until sprint to bloom at the best time.
University of Texas researchers say the timing of blooming is critical to ensure pollination and is important for crop production, a university release said Tuesday.
One way for plants to recognize it's spring and not just a warm spell during winter is that they "remember" they've gone through a long enough period of cold, the researchers say.
"Plants can't literally remember, of course, because they don't have brains," Sibum Sung, assistant professor of molecular cell and developmental biology, says. "But they do have a cellular memory of winter, and our research provides details on how this process works."
The process is called vernalization, when a plant becomes prepared to flower after a period of cold.
The researchers discovered a molecule they've dubbed COLDAIR is required for plants to create a memory of winter.
In fall, a gene called FLC actively represses floral production, since a random bloom in fall could be a waste of precious energy.
But after a plant has been exposed to 20 days of near-freezing temperatures, the COLDAIR molecule becomes active and silences the FLC gene, a process that is completed after about 30 to 40 days of cold.
With the FLC silenced as temperatures warm in the spring, other genes are activated that initiate blooming.
The finding could lead to crop improvements, the researchers say, and may be important to understand as climate changes alter the length of the winter season with possible affects on vernalization in plants around the world.