Warmer temperatures signal to plants that summer is coming. Anticipating less water, they flower early then lack the energy to produce more seeds, so crop yields are lower. This is problematic as the world’s population is expected to balloon to 10 billion, with much less food to eat.
…[Researchers at UC Riverside] located the first gene, called HEMERA, two years ago. Then they did an experiment to see if they could identify other genes involved in controlling the temperature-sensing process.
Ordinarily, plants react to shifts of even a few degrees in weather. For this experiment, the team began with a mutant Arabidopsis plant completely insensitive to temperature, and they modified it to once again become reactive.
Examining the genes of this twice-mutated plant revealed the new gene, RCB, whose products work closely with HEMERA to stabilize the heat-sensing function. “If you knock out either gene, your plant is no longer sensitive to temperature,” [UCR botany and plant sciences professor Meng] Chen said.
Ultimately, the goal is to be able to modify temperature response to ensure the future of our food supply.
“We were excited to find this second gene,” Chen said. “It’s a new piece of the puzzle. Once we understand how it all works, we can modify it, and help crops cope better with climate change.”