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Adv Genet. 2011;74:105-39. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-387690-4.00004-0.

The genetics of plant clocks.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA.


The rotation of the earth on its axis confers the property of dramatic, recurrent, rhythmic environmental change. The rhythmicity of this change from day to night and again to day imparts predictability. As a consequence, most organisms have acquired the capacity to measure time to use this time information to temporally regulate their biology to coordinate with their environment in anticipation of coming change. Circadian rhythms, endogenous rhythms with periods of ∼24h, are driven by an internal circadian clock. This clock integrates temporal information and coordinates of many aspects of biology, including basic metabolism, hormone signaling and responses, and responses to biotic and abiotic stress, making clocks central to "systems biology." This review will first address the extent to which the clock regulates many biological processes. The architecture and mechanisms of the plant circadian oscillator, emphasizing what has been learned from intensive study of the circadian clock in the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, will be considered. The conservation of clock components in other species will address the extent to which the Arabidopsis model will inform our consideration of plants in general. Finally, studies addressing the role of clocks in fitness will be discussed. Accumulating evidence indicates that the consonance of the endogenous circadian clock with environmental cycles enhances fitness, including both biomass accumulation and reproductive performance. Thus, increased understanding of plant responses to environmental input and to endogenous temporal cues has ecological and agricultural importance.

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