The initiation of flowering is a crucial trait that allows temperate plants to flower in the favourable conditions of spring. The timing of flowering initiation is governed by two main mechanisms: vernalization that defines a plant’s requirement for a prolonged exposure to cold temperatures; and photoperiod sensitivity defining the need for long days to initiate floral transition. Genetic variability in both vernalization and photoperiod sensitivity largely explains the adaptability of cultivated crop plants such as bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) to a wide range of climatic conditions. The major genes controlling wheat vernalization (VRN1, VRN2, and VRN3) and photoperiod sensitivity (PPD1) have been identified, and knowledge of their interactions at the molecular level is growing. However, the quantitative effects of temperature and photoperiod on these genes remain poorly understood. Here it is shown that the distinction between the temperature effects on organ appearance rate and on vernalization sensu stricto is crucial for understanding the quantitative effects of the environmental signal on wheat flowering. By submitting near isogenic lines of wheat differing in their allelic composition at the VRN1 locus to various temperature and photoperiod treatments, it is shown that, at the whole-plant level, the vernalization process has a positive response to temperature with complex interactions with photoperiod. In addition, the phenotypic variation associated with the presence of different spring homoeoalleles of VRN1 is not induced by a residual vernalization requirement. The results demonstrate that a precise definition of vernalization is necessary to understand and model temperature and photoperiod effects on wheat flowering. It is suggested that this definition should be used as the basis for gene expression studies and assessment of functioning of the wheat flowering gene network, including an explicit account of the quantitative effect of environmental variables.
Keywords: Ecophysiology; floral initiation; flowering; photoperiod; temperature; VRN1
Journal Article. 5993 words. Illustrated.
Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry
Full text: subscription required