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Celebration of Scholarship and Creative Activity 2021

Climate Change and Genetics of Plant Responses to Seasonal Cues

Sydney Behlman

Senior, Biology, Psychology


Annual plants respond to environmental cues to determine the time of year and therefore, whether they should be germinating, growing or reproducing. We explored the genetic potential of four strains of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana to respond to normal environmental cues and abnormal combinations of cues. There are two combinations of cues A. thaliana populations respond to in different ways (fall germinating cues and spring germinating cues). Seeds may respond to decreasing photoperiods (~14 hrs) and temperatures to germinate in the fall which causes seedlings to experience cold temperatures in winter (vernalization) before flowering in the spring. In contrast, some strains’ seeds are insensitive to fall cues and instead winters cold temperatures and increasing photoperiods (~14 hours) of spring induce germination and accelerated growth and flowering. Warming trends could extend summer-like temperatures into the shorter photoperiods of fall and spring. We wanted to find out which components of seasonal cues (and their genetic pathways) were most responsible for plant responses to normal cue combinations. These results might help us determine which stages of a plant’s life and season will be most affected by climate change.

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  1. Laura Ladwig

    Interesting research! I enjoyed your clear description of the project and also found Figure 1 very helpful.

    This question may be beyond the scope of your project, but what is the cold tolerance of the overwintering seedlings? Could they be damaged or killed by an extreme cold event, and if so, how cold would it have to be?

    • Sydney Behlman

      Hi Laura, thank you for your question! Unfortunately I don’t know the answer. This research was more heavily focused on the response to mismatching cues rather than the cues that already exist. It would be interesting to the test the extremes of these cues though.

  2. Abby Shreve

    This is amazing Sydney, congratulations!! 🙂

  3. Noah Eckstein

    This is a very interesting topic. Keep up the great work, Syd! 🙂

  4. Gunther Procknow

    Super interesting topic! The poster is awesome and easy to follow. Keep up the good work!

  5. Lucas Miller

    As you stated, this topic may sadly become very important in the future. Great work Syd!

  6. Tim Fitzpatrick

    Sydney, this is awesome!! It’s crazy to think how much global warming has an effect on germinating seeds throughout the year. Really interesting topic, and it’s really nicely put together. Congrats on your research!

  7. Emily Hand

    Great job and really interesting research! I see you used the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, but I wonder how you think the seasonal cues would have different effects on different plant species? Would it depend on their genetic mechanisms?

    • Sydney Behlman

      Hi Emily, thank you for your question. We used Arabidopsis thaliana because it is a model plant species when it comes to performing research for a number of reasons. It only has five chromosomes, it is diploid, it is self fertile, it can produce 100s of progeny, and lastly because it has a short life cycle.
      I cannot say for certain what the differences would be, but I’m sure that depending on the genetic makeup of a species, the effects of these environmental cues would vary.


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