Did you know that flowering plants can remember changes in their environment? I sure didn’t!

Flowering plants use their memory to remember the temperature of a cold winter. By doing so, plants ensure that they will only flower during the warmer temperatures of spring or summer.

The way plants do this is through a group of proteins called polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2). In cold temperatures, the proteins come together as a complex and switch the plant into flowering mode. However little is known about how PRC2 senses the temperature changes in the environment.

But according to an article on Science News, a team of researchers from the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham lead by Dr. Daniel Gibbs discovered a mechanism in angiosperms that enable them to sense and remember changes in the environment so they can adapt to the varying conditions around them, especially during the changing of seasons. The researchers discovered that the protein Vernalization 2 (VRN2), the core of the PRC2, is very unstable.

Why is this important? Since VRN2 is unstable, it can be greatly affected by the level of oxygen in the environment. In warmer months, the plant is already a flower, so it does not need to continue the flowering process. The abundance of oxygen causes VRN2 to break down. Conversely, when there is a lower level of oxygen in the colder months, VRN2 becomes more stable, causing the proteins of PRC2 to come together and switch the plant into flowering mode. As Dr. Gibbs says, “In this way, VRN2 directly senses and responds to signals from the environment, and the PRC2 remains inactive until required.”

By sensing and remembering the changes in their environment, plants can control their life cycle. I find it so interesting that plants have this capability. Plants that are able to adapt to our world’s ever-changing climate will be more successful in surviving.

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