10 May 2012
Norwich Research Park based iDNA Genetics has worked with Dave Laurie and colleagues at the John Innes Centre to understand how Barley grown in Scandinavian countries is adapted to cope with the extremes of day length at high latitudes. They have found a genetic variation in some Scandinavian barley varieties that disrupts the circadian clock allowing them to grow succesfully in that region's short growing season where the days are extrememly long and the night short. This new knowledge may be useful in efforts to adapt other crops for regions where the growing season is short.
It is interesting that reindeer have also dropped their circadian clock in adapting to extremely long days.
Plant breeders and scientists now have the tools and knowledge of genetics to rationally design crops to be best adapted to specific regions, and this study adds to the growing wealth of genetic data on cereal crops. Whilst the mutation identified here would be useless for UK barleys that benefit from late flowering, it could be very useful for breeding varieties to take advantage of new environments or changing climate. Crops have a wide distribution all over the world, representing a rich source of genetic variation and adaptation, which modern plant science is now exploring to help develop better crops and protect food security.