By Boyd Champness

SCIENTISTS at CSIRO – Australias Government-funded agricultural research and development body – have discovered a powerful new gene that controls when a crop will flower.

According to The Weekly Times, a CSIRO research team has identified and manipulated the master gene, creating opportunities to develop new crop cultivars with a range of flowering times.

The discovery of the Flf (flowering locus f) master gene is of global significance, whether it be for wheat, weeds or wildflowers.

It gives biotechnologists the power to control when a crop switches from growing leaves and stems to flowers and seed, the newspaper says.

The discovery will enable:

  • The flowering of pasture grasses to be delayed, extending their growing season.
  • Flower growers to synchronise their crops to bloom for special days such as St Valentines Day and Mothers Day.
  • Fruit-growers to manipulate trees to flower outside normal seasonal patterns.
CSIRO researcher Candice Sheldon, who identified the gene, said the long-term value of the technology is astounding.

“At the moment, industry spends huge amounts of money on glasshouses, heating and lighting, trying to get crops to flower out of season,” she told the paper.

“If, instead, you can genetically manipulate plants to flower early, its going to save a lot.”

Ultimately, Dr Sheldon hopes farmers will eventually be able to spray their crops with chemicals that can switch the gene on and off.