The dandelion plant Taraxacum koksaghyz shows great potential as a natural rubber source in the temperate climate zone. However, there are challenges in transforming it from a wild species into a crop plant. One obstacle is the need for most T. koksaghyz plants to undergo prolonged cold exposure also known as vernalization to trigger flower development.
In collaboration with partners, researchers at Fraunhofer IME in Münster used epigenomic and transcriptomic analysis to identify candidate genes involved in controlling flower development. Understanding the flowering time control in T. koksaghyz will facilitate the selection of varieties with shorter life cycles. These varieties can help to meet the growing demand for natural rubber.

In their recent publication, scientists at Fraunhofer IME in Münster, together with colleagues from the University of Münster and Humboldt University Berlin, demonstrated that the parasitic plant Cuscuta does not require the floral inducing proteins of the host, but produces its own floral activators.
The researchers used tobacco as host plant. First, they generated non-flowering tobacco host plants by mutating the two tobacco floral activators NtFT4 and NtFT5. They allowed C. campestris to parasitize wild-type tobacco and two independent Ntft4–Ntft5– T2 lines. The wild-type plants flowered after 66 days, whereas onset of flowering had not occurred in Ntft4–Ntft5– plants by the end of the experiment (83 days). C. campestris plants parasitizing wildtype tobacco flowered after 42 days, and those parasitizing the two double mutant hosts flowered after 39 and 42 days, respectively. Further studies on the endogenous FT-FD module and other floral regulators in C. campestris and C. australis provide deeper insights into flower regulation in these fascinating parasitic plants and will help to identify upstream regulators and downstream targets.

In plants, the switch from vegetative growth to flowering must be controlled to ensure reproduction occurs when the day length indicates the most suitable time of year.
In our latest paper we look at the key regulator of photoperiod-dependent flower development: CONSTANS (CO). In our model species Nicotiana tabacum, which flowers regardless of day length, we found two homologous genes and overexpressing or mutating these genes did not indicate a major involvement in the floral transition in tobacco. Related genes were also present in tobacco’s ancestors, one of which prefers to flower during short days while the other is restricted to long days. NsCOL2 overexpression in the long-day ancestor (Nicotiana sylvestris) allowed flowering under non-inductive short-day conditions. This correlated with the expression of NsFTd, a direct activator of flower development. These results contribute to the field by showing that NsFTd is transcriptionally activated by NsCOL2 in N. sylvestris but this function seems to be lost in tobacco, revealing an evolutionary mechanism contributing to the diverse photoperiod-dependent flowering in closely related species.

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Niephaus, E., Müller, B., van Deenen, N., Lassowskat, I., Bonin, M., Finkemeier, I., Prüfer, D., Schulze Gronover, C.
Uncovering mechanisms of rubber biosynthesis in Taraxacum koksaghyz – role of cis-prenyltransferase-like 1 protein (2019) Plant Journal, 100 (3), 591-609. DOI

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Wieghaus, A., Prüfer, D., Gronover, C.S.
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Bröker, J.N., Laibach, N., Müller, B., Prüfer, D., Schulze Gronover, C. Taraxacum brevicorniculatum rubber elongation factor TbREF associates with lipid droplets and affects lipid turn-over in yeast (2018) Biotechnology Reports, 20, art. no. e00290. DOI

Martínez, M.E., Poirrier, P., Prüfer, D., Schulze, C., Jorquera, L., Ferrer, P., Díaz, K., Chamy, R.
Kinetics and modeling of cell growth for potential anthocyanin induction in cultures of Taraxacum officinale G.H. Weber ex Wiggers (Dandelion) in vitro (2018) Electronic Journal of Biotechnology, 36, 15-23. DOI

Unland, K., Pütter, K.M., Vorwerk, K., van Deenen, N., Twyman, R.M., Prüfer, D., Schulze Gronover, C.
Functional characterization of squalene synthase and squalene epoxidase in Taraxacum koksaghyz (2018) Plant Direct, 2 (6), art. no. e00063 DOI

Laibach, N., Schmidl, S., Müller, B., Bergmann, M., Prüfer, D., Schulze Gronover, C.
Small rubber particle proteins from Taraxacum brevicorniculatum promote stress tolerance and influence the size and distribution of lipid droplets and artificial poly(cis-1,4-isoprene) bodies (2018) Plant Journal, 93 (6), 1045-1061. DOI

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