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Scientists discover why flowers bloom earlier in a warming climate

March 31, 2015

Scientists at the John Innes Centre have discovered why the first buds of spring come increasingly earlier as the climate changes.

Dr Steven Penfield at the JIC found that plants have an ideal temperature for seed set and flower at a particular time of year to make sure their seed develops just as the weather has warmed to this 'sweet spot' temperature.

Dr Penfield, working with Dr Vicki Springthorpe at the University of York, found the sweet spot for the model plant Arabidposis thaliana is between 14-15?C. Seeds that develop in temperatures lower than 14?C will almost always remain dormant and fail to germinate. This allows the mother plant to produce seeds with different growth strategies, increasing the chances that some of her progeny will successfully complete another generation.

As the climate changes the sweet spot for seeds comes earlier in the year, so first flowers bloom correspondingly earlier too.

The research which received funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC) and is published in eLife today, used computer models to understand the growth strategy of Arabidopsis thaliana. The underlying principle of a very sensitive temperature sweet spot is likely to apply to many flowering plants. This would mean that certain plants have different flowering times due to different but equally narrow temperature sensitivity windows.

Dr Penfield said: "We found that setting seed at the correct temperature is vital to ensure normal germination. It seems that plants aim to flower not at a particular time of year, but when the optimal temperature for seed set is approaching. If the climate warms plants are clever enough to recognise this and adjust their flowering time accordingly and it feels like spring comes earlier in the year."
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Notes to editors

1. If you have any questions or would like to interview Dr Penfield please contact:

Geraldine Platten
Communications Manager
John Innes Centre & The Sainsbury Laboratory
t: 01603 450 238
e: geraldine.platten@jic.ac.uk

2. A PDF of the eLife paper and images to accompany this press release can be found at:http://bit.ly/19Fa0YX

3. About the John Innes Centre

Our mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge of nature's diversity to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and engage with policy makers and the public.

To achieve these goals we establish pioneering long-term research objectives in plant and microbial science, with a focus on genetics. These objectives include promoting the translation of research through partnerships to develop improved crops and to make new products from microbes and plants for human health and other applications. We also create new approaches, technologies and resources that enable research advances and help industry to make new products. The knowledge, resources and trained researchers we generate help global societies address important challenges including providing sufficient and affordable food, making new products for human health and industrial applications, and developing sustainable bio-based manufacturing.

This provides a fertile environment for training the next generation of plant and microbial scientists, many of whom go on to careers in industry and academia, around the world.

The John Innes Centre is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 2013-2014 the John Innes Centre received a total of £31.4 million from the BBSRC.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £484M in world-class bioscience in 2013-14. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes

Norwich BioScience Institutes

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