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ScienceDaily: How environment and genes interact in plant development
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ScienceDaily: How environment and genes interact in plant development

Iowa State University scientists use data analytics to examine the mechanisms that govern how genetics and changing environment conditions interact during critical developmental stages of plants.

A new study has been published in the academic scientific magazine New PhytologistThe research examines how temperature changes affect the height of sorghum plant. Scientists who carried out the experiments believe that the research could lead to more resilient crops and shed light on the mechanisms that are crucial for plant growth. The research centers around the concept phenotypicplasticity. This is the ability to change a trait due to environmental conditions. For example, a plant that grows in a dry environment may reach a different height than one that grows in a moist environment.

Jianming Yu is a professor of Agronomy at Iowa State University. He was also the Pioneer Distinguished chair in Maize Breeding at Iowa State University. This study was co-authored by Jianming Yu. Plasticity is not only seen in the final mature traits, but it is also difficult to see. The new study instead examines the growth rate for sorghum in a crucial stage of development, which is between 40 and 53 days after it was planted. Researchers were able to focus their attention on the rapid-growth phase of the plant’s lifecycle, allowing them to study the mechanisms that govern sorghum phenotypic plasticity.

Yu said, “Looking at developmental phases allows us to look underthe hood to see the final mature characteristics.”

The researchers collected data over multiple years on sorghum, a worldwide cultivated cereal crop. The researchers collected measurements of plant height at various points during the growing seasons. This data was used to create a large dataset that they then applied statistical regression analyses to better understand how height and diurnal temperatures change (the difference in temperature between daytime lows and nighttime highs).

They found that plants with higher diurnal temperature changes had shorter growth rates. This trend was especially evident during the critical developmental phase, which took place between 40 and 53 days after planting.

Qi Mu, a postdoctoral researcher in agronomy, was the first author of the study. “We found that these genes interact with environmental stimuli to control the maximum growth speed as well as the time it takes to reach maximum growth,” she said. “And that eventually determines final plant height.”

Plasticity and climate changes

Yu stated that climate change makes it more urgent to understand phenotypic flexibility. Farmers and plant breeders will need better tools to predict how crops will perform under different environmental conditions as climate change causes more volatile weather swings. Yu, for example, said that climate change could cause nighttime temperatures in certain locations to rise, which could have significant implications for cultivating crops.

Mu said that research on phenotypic and phenotypic plasticity will enable plant breeders to create more precise tools for predicting how crops will perform under a range environmental conditions.

Mu stated, “Crops must adapt to different climates or environments.” “To breed more adaptable crops, we need to understand how they respond to different environments. This knowledge will allow us to design resilient crops that can thrive in new environments.

The study’s results were obtained after analysing 3,500 phenotype record records over four years. These records were then validated with 13,500 phenotype record records over another four years.

“Thousands of genetic fingerprint and weather datapoints were mulled,” Li, now a research scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, said.

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, ISU Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding and ISU Plant Sciences Institute funded the research. Tingting Guo, who is a researcher in agronomy and was also part of Yu’s research team, was also part of the research team.


MaterialsProvided by Iowa State University. Note: Content can be edited for style or length.

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