Hot summers can devastate canola farmers. Prolonged heat waves can leave behind fields of fallen, shattered oilseed pods and destroy vast amounts of the crop. Why canola (oilseed rape) seedpods disintegrate rapidly in prolonged heat blasts has been something of a mystery, but a new study suggests rising temperatures trigger a genetic cascade in the plant that leads to premature fruit development.
That discovery offers a potential path to protecting canola, which is important in making vegetable oil, and other crops from heat waves. "If people are trying to breed crops for not shattering in heat waves then they have a target gene to work with," says Johanna Schmitt, a plant biologist at the University of California, Davis, who did not work on the study.