William Joyce

Chemical Biology tools for flowering control

William Joyce - Writing up


Climate change is affecting seasonal flowering of plants including many of the world’s major crops. The main underlying environmental factors are temperature and daylength, with additional unpredictable impacts resulting from multiple stress factors: drought, salt, nutrient starvation. Reliable flowering time is a cornerstone of global food production, and is threatened under all climate change scenarios. The recent breakthrough discovery (to which the Lead Supervisor contributed significantly) is that a protein, called Flowering Locus T (FT), rather than a small molecule, acts as the main flowering hormone. Surprisingly, a closely related protein called Terminal Flowering 1 (TFL1) has almost completely the opposite effect, delaying flowering and extending the plant’s lifespan. FT and TFL1 both interact with partner molecules including 14-3-3 proteins and a pivotal regulator of gene transcription, Flowering Locus D (FD). Together these proteins then activate or repress flowering. Our recent unpublished work shows that there are subtle but significant differences between the positive FT and negative TFL1 complexes that result in the FT and TFL1 versions recruiting FD to different promoter DNA regions. This novel insight provides an exciting opportunity to develop and apply chemical biology tools for direct intervention in regulation of floral complex action. Using our own multi-disciplinary knowledge base (structural, biochemical and biological evidence), coupled with resources from our physical sciences partner (fragment libraries, models for protein-membrane interactions etc.), the student would combine high throughput screens and structure-guided design to develop tractable chemical biology tools for on-demand flowering control. The long-term goal would be to provide tractable non-GM interventions to mitigate against climate change-induced shifts and unreliability in flowering time, either through field application or through provision of chemical tools to accelerate crop genetic improvement for better matching of flowering time to shifted climates.

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