Science - April 2, 2010

Workings of flower switch uncovered

Wageningen geneticists have uncovered more about the workings of a major gene switch responsible for blossoming in plants. Their research work was carried out with Spanish and American colleagues. The switch, the AP1 gene, is capable of switching thousands of other genes on and off, thereby setting off the process during which plants develop flowers, the researchers reported yesterday in Science.

The article's first author Kerstin Kaufmann of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology and his supervisor Gerco Angenent conducted their research on the plant Arabidopsis. They studied a species of this model plant related to the cauliflower. The AP1 switch is present in cauliflower, as a result of which the plant does not have any flowers but many buds which together make up the cauliflower itself. 
AP1 has the codes of a protein capable of switching genes on and off, thus regulating plant processes. This came to light when the researchers found a way to turn on AP1 in the cauliflower-related Arabidopsis species. In this way, they found the genes controlled by the AP1 protein. Two days later, the AP1 protein began to turn on genes responsible for the formation of the sepals, petals, stamens and the ovaries - i.e. the flowers.
'We have demonstrated that one particular inherited characteristic makes a link between the inducement of blossoming and the actual formation of the flowers', says Angenent. This knowledge can help plant breeders to be more specific in developing new vegetables and ornamental plants. 'This knowledge would enable them to develop entirely new flower forms.'