Plants teach their offspring how to adapt to climate change
Epigenetic memory is helping plants to quickly adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and transmit these adaptations to their offspring, new research published in the Trends in Plant Science journal indicates.
How plants are adapting to climate change
“One day I thought about how a person’s lifestyle and experience can affect their gametes by transmitting molecular marks of their life to their children,” recalls Federico Martinelli, a plant geneticist at the University of Florence, Italy.
In this study, the scientists shed light on how plants are adapting to climate change and its adverse effects. Also, how do they pass this memory on to the next generation?
According to scientists, plants use their memories of the past to cope with these changes. They store memories related to adverse environmental conditions so that if such conditions occur again in the future, they can use them to react as soon as possible.
If it is seen, even the plant is not safe from changes in the weather. This change is also increasing environmental stress for plants. For example, in many regions, the winter season is getting warmer and shorter. So plants have to adapt to these changes.
How plants remember past stresses
Plants are facing more environmental stressors than ever before. For example, climate change is making winters shorter and less severe in many places, and plants are responding.
‘Many plants need a minimum period of cold to start their environmental clock and define their flowering time,’ explains Martinelli. ‘As cool seasons shorten, plants have adapted to require a less cold period to delay flowering. These mechanisms allow plants to avoid flowering in periods when they are less likely to reproduce.’
Since plants do not have neural networks, their memory is based entirely on cellular, molecular, and biochemical networks. These networks form what researchers call somatic memory. “These mechanisms allow plants to recognize the occurrence of a previous environmental condition and to react more quickly in the presence of the same consequent condition,” he says.
Memory of abiotic stresses
These somatic memories can be passed on to plant offspring through epigenetics. ‘We have highlighted key genes, proteins, and small oligonucleotides that, according to previous studies, play a critical role in the memory of abiotic stresses such as drought, salinity, cold, heat, heavy metals, and pathogen attacks.’
‘In this peer-reviewed opinion article, we provide several examples that demonstrate the existence of molecular mechanisms that modulate plant memory in the face of environmental stress and that affect offspring adaptation to this stress.’
In the future, Martinelli and his colleagues hope to better understand the genes that are passed on. “We are especially interested in deciphering the epigenetic alphabet that underlies all the modifications of the genetic material caused by the environment, without changes in the DNA sequence”, he comments.
‘This is especially important considering the rapid climate change we see today and to which all living organisms, including plants, need to rapidly adapt to survive.’
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