Plants possess an enormous developmental plasticity that allows them to adapt their lifestyle to fast changing environmental conditions. Temperature ― varying from winter cold and heat stress to daily fluctuations in ambient temperature ― is one of the environmental cues plants sense, e.g. to determine their optimal flowering time. Mammals contain specialized proteins acting as “thermosensors”, but orthologous molecules have not been identified in plants. Recent studies suggest that intrinsic physical characteristics of key flowering time regulatory genes, transcripts and proteins, act as ‘molecular thermometers’ in plants. As a consequence, gene splicing, gene expression, protein stability and protein complex formation are affected by temperature, resulting in an adapted flowering time response.
We investigate how ambient temperature affects splicing of key regulatory genes involved in flowering time control and the potential role of novel Long non-coding RNAs (LncRNAs) in this process. Additionally, we study the molecular mode of action of the MADS domain transcription factors FLOWERING LOCUS M (FLM) and SHORT VEGETATIVE PHASE (SVP) in this process. Latest results on a potential role of the histone mark H3K36me3 in temperature-mediated alternative splicing and flowering will be discussed. Additionally, preliminary results on the isolation of native SVP protein complexes from vegetative plants and inflorescences will be presented, as well as an inventory of ambient temperature-responsive LncRNAs.
Understanding how plants measure temperature and integrate this information in their developmental programs at the molecular level is essential to breed new crop varieties that will help to guarantee food security in a sustainable manner under increasin gly fluctuating environmental conditions.