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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 May 12;95(10):5824-9.

DNA methylation and the promotion of flowering by vernalization.

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Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Plant Industry, P.O. Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.


We have tested the hypothesis that the promotion of flowering by prolonged exposure to low temperatures (vernalization) is mediated by DNA demethylation [Burn, J. E., Bagnall, D. J., Metzger, J. M., Dennis, E. S. & Peacock, W. J. (1993) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 90, 287-291]. Arabidopsis plants that have reduced levels of DNA methylation because of the presence of a methyltransferase (METI) antisense gene flowered earlier than untransformed control plants, without the need for a cold treatment. Decreased DNA methylation mutants (ddm1) also flowered earlier than the wild-type progenitor under conditions where they respond to vernalization. We conclude that demethylation of DNA is sufficient to cause early flowering, and we have found that the promotion of flowering is directly proportional to the decrease in methylation in METI antisense lines. The early-flowering phenotype was inherited in sexual progeny, even when the antisense transgene had been lost by segregation. Methyltransferase antisense plants with low DNA methylation levels responded to a low-temperature treatment by flowering even earlier than their untreated siblings indicating that the promotion of flowering by cold and by demethylation was additive when neither treatment saturated the early-flowering response. As in untransformed control plants, the cold-induced early-flowering signal was reset in progeny of METI antisense plants. These observations suggest that the demethylation brought about by a METI antisense can account for some properties of vernalization, but not for the need for revernalization in each generation.

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