SPP 1530: Flowering Time Control - from Natural Variation to Crop Improvement

PP 1530: General Information

During evolution plants have co-ordinated the seasonal timing of flowering and reproduction with the prevailing environmental conditions. With the onset of flowering plants undergo the transition from vegetative growth to reproductive development. In the past years we have gained increasing knowledge of flowering time (FTi) regulation in model species such as Arabidopsis. Conservation of major FTi regulators and regulatory pathways between different species as well as increased availability of genome sequences and improvements in computational biology offer a unique opportunity to study FTi genes across species barriers.

 

In agriculture, flowering is a prerequisite for crop production whenever seeds or fruits are harvested. In contrast, avoidance of flowering is necessary for harvesting vegetative parts of a plant such as tubers or roots. Late flowering also severely hampers the breeding success due to long generation times. Thus, FTi regulation is of utmost importance for genetic improvement of crops. There are a number of new challenges for plant geneticists and breeders in the future such as the changing climate, a need for higher yields, and a demand for vegetative biomass for bioenergy production. This often requires novel approaches for altering the phenological development of a plant beyond the genetic variation found in the available gene pools of a crop species. Today we know that changes in the expression of a single FTi regulator only can suffice to drastically alter FTi. This offers new perspectives to broaden the genetic variation of crops and for knowledge-based breeding exploiting the molecular fundament of FTi control. Increasing evidence points to pleiotropic effects of FTi genes beyond the regulation of flowering time. FTi genes have long been associated with stress avoidance and most recently, yield parameters and hybrid yield were shown to be regulated by FTi genes. This emerging field of research offers new possibilities for gaining insight into the very foundations of yield potential in crop plants.

 

The strategic aim of the proposed SPP is to develop a functional cross-species network of FTi regulators for modeling developmental and associated (e.g. yield) characters in relation to environmental cues. Plant species with different phenological development will be investigated including perennials. Phylogenetic similarities can be used to infer similar functional interactions between FTi regulators in related crop species. Also, current data suggest that some FTi regulators present in model species have been recruited to regulate different FTi control processes in crop species. Comparative analysis of FTi regulation among and between closely and more remotely related species is expected to identify distinct evolutionary paths towards optimization of FTi in the diverse set of species under study and the branching points where these paths have diverged. A database will be established which comprises sequence, expression, allelic variation and phenotypic data as well as cross-referenced regulatory FTi networks (with interactive links to the above data) for the model and crop species under investigation. Prospective participants in this SPP are invited to focus on genomic approaches to gain a comprehensive understanding of FTi regulation also in crops which thus far have not been a major target of research. Novel approaches for increasing and exploiting genetic variation of FTi regulators also are strongly encouraged. Another focus will be on non-genetic cues regulating FTi and hormonal constitution and nutrient supply. Conventional, purely descriptive approaches and traditional breeding for FTi adaptation without elucidating the genetic basis shall not be funded.

 

The SPP will bring together scientists from different fields of expertise such as genome research, genetics/breeding, physiology, plant nutrition, and bioinformatics. The program will have strong international ties. Progress meetings will be held regularly and at rotating venues which represent the various centers of expertise within the SPP. The program also aims explicitly to support young scientists in strengthening their skills for their later career by enabling vigorous scientific exchange within the SPP and beyond through measures such as travel grants and workshops.

 

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