Flowers May Form Memories Using Mad Cow Protein

A protein linked to mad cow disease could be responsible for helping plants form memories, a study has found.

Plants have memories of past events that they can pass to their offspring, such as telling future generations to flower at the right time based on past temperature observations.

New research has found that prions could be responsible for how the mother plants form such memories.

Prions are a type of protein that fold under certain conditions, and can also trigger other proteins around them to fold as well.

The damage caused by folding can lead to BSE - known as mad cow disease - but in plants can help form memories.

Frantisek Baluska, from the University of Bonn, Germany, said the findings were "very significant".

"Prions, we think, are responsible for some really broad, really interesting biology. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg so far."

Scientists have found that when the Arabidopsis thaliana plant experiences warmer temperatures, it produced more of a protein called Flowering Locus T (FT).

This suppressed the production of tannins in its fruit, which helps make the seeds germinate more quickly.

When the mother plant experienced cooler temperatures, it produced less FT protein and more FT.

Susan Lindquist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told New Scientist: "Plants have lots of states that they self-perpetuate. They have memory in some ways."

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