Scientists develop compound that speeds up plants’ biological clock by about three weeks.

Japanese researchers have developed a compound that can speed up the flowering of plants, a finding that could be used to allow agriculture even in colder regions where it is currently not possible.

The researchers found they could make plants flower about three weeks earlier than usual by drastically pushing forward the plants’ biological clock, which reacts to light levels and season.

The team led by Norihito Nakamichi, designated associate professor of plant physiology at Nagoya University, sought out a compound that alters the internal clock of Arabidopsis thaliana, a common weed that is often used in plant experiments. Among about 35,000 compounds, the researchers identified one kind that can shorten the approximately 24-hour cycle to about 20 hours.

Although it usually takes about 60 or so days until the flowering stage, the plants needed less than 40 days to reach that stage. The team found that the function of florigen genes responsible for controlling flowering in plants had been increased fivefold.

The reduction in the time until plants bear fruit could lead to an increase in yield stability in colder regions before the temperature drops and enhance productivity in more cultivated areas.

Improved crop varieties that can be harvested before the onset of the colder season have gone a long way toward ramping up agricultural output.

The development of early flowering rice varieties has made rice production possible in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, where winters can be severe.

The conventional method uses a gene mutation that occurs naturally, so that development takes a long time.

But the new method can expedite the flowering time simply by applying the compound to the surface of the plant’s leaves, which lowers the cost.

Harvesting can be difficult when plants flower and produce fruit in winter.

Although there have been methods to prompt plants to bloom by using greenhouses and adjusting lighting, these require massive facilities and huge amounts of electricity. This drives up the cost.

The team will spend the next few years studying the effect of the compound in a wide range of farm products such as fruits, vegetables and grains. They will also work toward a practical application with a partner company.

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