The thyme of your life

Ishbel Begg

Recent research by a team of Glasgow University scientists into the circadian ‘clocks’ in plants could have significant implications for the way we live our lives.

The results of the study, led by Professor Hugh Nimmo, have overturned the earlier theory that plant cells contain identical, independent circadian clocks.

On the premise that most, if not all, organisms have evolved to possess circadian clocks, the findings could further research looking into how both crop and human clock patterns can be manipulated.

The behaviour of organisms is informed by circadian clocks as they allow living cells to ‘tell the time’, anticipate and respond to environmental changes.

Professor Nimmo explained that these findings could have an impact on the way the horticultural industry works.

He said: “Although we had worked on circadian rhythms of CO2 fixation for many years, we had not previously addressed the mechanism of the central circadian clock, which is a fiercely competitive area.

“In plants the circadian clock contributes in several ways to optimal growth, and often controls flowering time, which is vital for crop yield and the horticulture industry, for example, getting chrysanthemums to flower shortly before Mother’s Day.

“Developing a better understanding of the molecular mechanism of the circadian clock is of great importance both in human biology and for agriculture as the underlying ‘design principles’ seem to be the same in all higher organisms.”

Humans experience the circadian clock in many ways, such as disturbed sleep, sleep problems associated with shift-work, and jetlag.

Developing ways to advance or delay the clock’s phase is relevant for producing light regimes and treatments that can help treat these problems, such as helping airline passengers to adapt more rapidly to changes in time zone.

Professor Nimmo is also planning to build on this horticultural research to find out what further implications the study could have for the future.

He explained: “The results of our first experiment showed a difference in the machinery of the clock between shoots and roots.

“We had not really predicted this in advance but we realised within a couple of days of getting the results just how important the data might be.

“Since then we have also discovered that shoots and roots communicate timing information. The next task will be to study the implication for crop species, for example the formation and growth of potato tubers.”


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