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Plants might know when to bloom by remembering seasons

Engadget Engadget 27/04/2016 Mariella Moon
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Plants might have some capacity to retain information or, in other words, to form memories, according to a biologist from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts. Susan Lindquist has discovered that a protein found in thale cress (pictured above) acts like a prion. In humans and other animals, prions or misfolded proteins cause degenerative illnesses, including mad cow and Creutzfeldt–Jakob diseases. But the protein Lindquist found, which is called Luminidependens (LD), responds to daylight and controls flowering time.

Lindquist and her team aren't 100% sure that all plants have prion-like protein: they observed LD's behavior when they inserted it into yeast. To confirm their existence, scientists have to grind up various species and look for proteins in different folded states. The group says that if prions really do exist in plants, they could serve the same purpose as they do in fruit flies. See, clusters of misfolded proteins form or stabilize long-term memories in the insects. In plants, the disfigured proteins could be in charge of monitoring and "remembering" environmental temperatures, so flowers only bloom when they're meant to.

PNAS, Nature

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