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Genes that Cuddle in the Cold

Genes that Cuddle in the Cold

By Joshua Mylne

An ingenious experiment has allowed scientists to observe how plant genes move around the nucleus to locations that either stop or stimulate flowering depending on temperature.

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Every cell of the humble model plant Arabidopsis contains five chromosomes, each of which carries about 5000 genes. Each cell stashes some of its genes away and keeps some in ready reserve, while the others remain active and busily make proteins.

After decades of effort, scientists feel like they have a good understanding of how genes are regulated between these active and inactive states, but it’s beginning to dawn on them just how much genes move around while this happens, and that this might be a part of the regulatory process.

I have been part of a team of plant biologists that has developed a way to watch one particular gene move about the nucleus of a cell of a living plant. As the gene responded to cold, we saw how its copies came together in one place and were inactivated, showing that physical movement is involved in its control.

How a Plant Senses and Remembers Winter

All organisms, including plants, respond to their environment by regulating genes. Flowering Locus C (FLC) is the key gene in the model plant Arabidopsis that controls the decision to switch from making leaves to making flowers. As long as FLC is active, Arabidopsis keeps producing leaves. But the passage of winter – or even simply putting the plants in the fridge for a month or so – inactivates FLC and primes the plants to make flowers when they are returned to warmth...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.