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Genetic discovery delays peach bloom, safeguards crops from spring frost

Spring frost no more: genetic discovery delays peach bloom, safeguards crops
The pedigree of the late-flower peach (LFP) and its chilling requirement. Credit: Horticulture Research (2024). DOI: 10.1093/hr/uhae076

In a pivotal advancement for fruit agriculture, scientists have pinpointed a gene mutation in peach trees that governs the timing of flowering, a trait critical for evading spring frosts. This genetic insight could transform breeding practices, enabling the development of late-flowering fruit varieties that mitigate the risks of frost damage, thereby bolstering crop yields and farmer livelihoods.

Spring frost frequently threatens temperate fruit production, leading to significant economic losses for growers. One effective strategy to mitigate this issue is breeding late-flowering cultivars, which bloom after the risk of frost has passed. However, the process is often hampered by a lack of specific genes and markers and a limited understanding of the underlying genetic mechanisms.

This challenge necessitates in-depth research into the genetic regulation of flowering time, aiming to identify key genes and develop reliable markers for breeding frost-tolerant cultivars.

Researchers at the USDA-ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station have made a significant breakthrough in the field of horticulture. Their study, published in Horticulture Research on April 8, 2024, uncovers a genetic mutation in the euAP2a gene that is responsible for the late flowering of peaches, a trait that could be vital in frost avoidance strategies.

The study focused on a Late-Flowering Peach (LFP) germplasm, which requires longer chilling and warming periods to bloom compared to standard cultivars.

Researchers discovered a 983-bp deletion in the euAP2a gene that disrupts a miR172 binding site, leading to a gain-of-function mutation. Transcriptomic analyses revealed that this mutation affects the activation of thermo-responsive gene modules, delaying floral development.

Specifically, two chilling-responsive modules and four warming-responsive modules, involving approximately 600 genes, are sequentially activated at different stages of flower development. The deactivation or delay of these modules indicates that the euAP2a gene acts as a transcription repressor, modulating the thermo-responsive transcription programming to control the pace of floral development in peaches.

This research not only identifies the genetic basis for the late-flowering trait but also provides a comprehensive understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved, aiding the breeding of frost-tolerant tree cultivars.

Dr. Chris Dardick, a corresponding author of the study, states, "Our findings not only shed light on the genetic basis of flowering time but also provide a valuable tool for breeders to develop peach varieties that can better withstand the threats of climate change, ensuring food security and agricultural sustainability."

The application of this research is far-reaching, with the potential to inform breeding programs for a variety of temperate fruits. By understanding and manipulating the genetic factors that control , growers can cultivate crops that are more resilient to environmental fluctuations, ultimately leading to reduced vulnerability to damage and more predictable harvest outcomes.

More information: Jianyang Liu et al, euAP2a, a key gene that regulates flowering time in peach (Prunus persica) by modulating thermo-responsive transcription programming, Horticulture Research (2024). DOI: 10.1093/hr/uhae076

Journal information: Horticulture Research

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Citation: Genetic discovery delays peach bloom, safeguards crops from spring frost (2024, June 27) retrieved 15 July 2024 from
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