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They identify a gene that controls the production of flowers and fruits in leguminous plants


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They identify a gene that controls the production of flowers and fruits in leguminous plants


A research team led by the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology of Plants (IBMCP) - a joint center of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) - has proven that a gene called FUL controls the duration of the reproductive phase in crop plants such as the pea.

This would allow this gene to be used as a biotechnological tool to prolong this phase, and thus increase the production of fruits and seeds in peas and other legumes such as chickpeas, lentils or beans. The work is published today in the journal 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)'.

The end of the reproductive period, in which flowers and fruits are produced, is key in the life cycle of plants. However, the factors that control this process are not well known.

Annual plants have a single reproductive period, during which they produce flowers and fruits. Scientists are looking for genetic factors that cause plants to stop flowering and therefore control the length of their reproductive phase. The group led by CSIC research professor Cristina Ferrándiz at the IBMCP identified a few years ago a gene called FUL (Fruitfull, fruitful in English) as a very important regulator of flowering arrest.

"The first studies were carried out only on Arabidopsis, a laboratory plant with no agronomic interest," recalls Ferrándiz in a statement.

"We wanted to know if this function of FUL is the same in other species, particularly in crop species, and if we can use this knowledge to generate plants that produce flowers and fruits for longer, and thus have a higher yield," he summarizes.

To do this, together with the team led by the CSIC researcher at the IBMCP Francisco Madueño and other French and Canadian scientists, they have studied the role of the FUL gene in pea plants, a legume with high nutritional value.

"We have seen that the mutations that cause the loss of function of the FUL genes in pea lead to the plants producing flowers and, therefore, fruits, for much longer. This tells us that FUL controls the duration of the reproductive phase not only in the laboratory plant Arabidopsis, but also in other species, including crop plants," explains Ferrándiz.

"The prolonged production of flowers and fruits means that, in certain pea varieties, mutations in the FUL genes can double seed production, with identical nutritional characteristics to those of non-mutated plants, both in greenhouses and in plants. grown in the countryside," he says.

The authors of this work, which is published in the latest edition of the journal PNAS, highlight that to obtain the mutations in the FUL genes analyzed they used banks of mutants obtained by classical methods, without the need to generate transgenic plants.

Thus, "the method for obtaining new plant varieties can be based on traditional mutagenesis, as used today, and also in this study, or on gene editing using CRISPR, the most promising and powerful tool for agriculture of precision in the near future", advances Francisco Madueño.

The potential application of these results is to use the Fruitfull genes as a biotechnological tool to improve the yield of crop legumes. We have observed the greatest increase in seed yield in pea varieties with moderate production, while in pea varieties high yield, already with a very high production, the effect of the mutations in the FUL genes is small," points out Ferrándiz.

For IBMCP researchers, Fruitfull genes could be very useful to quickly and directly improve varieties of legumes that are very valuable for possessing characteristics of interest, such as high resistance to pathogens or drought, but that are not currently used. for having low production.

"Mutating the FUL genes in these varieties would most likely make them also high-yielding and useful for agricultural use. This may be of great importance if we take into account the challenges facing us due to the climate crisis and the need to generate varieties that support it better," they maintain.