A multidisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Granada, the Arid Zones Experimental Station (CSIC) and the Universities of Vigo, Pablo Olavide and Rey Juan Carlos have discovered that a plant, called Moricandia arvensis, produce radically different flowers in spring and summer because the heat modifies the expression of their genes.

This curious phenomenon, which researchers have described for the first time in a species, is due to the so-called phenotypic plasticity, which is the ability of a genotype to produce different phenotypes in response to changes in the environment.

It is an essential property of living beings, whose role in adaptation and acclimatization to environmental changes is not yet fully known, according to a note from the University of Granada.

Now, the researchers have published an article in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, in which they experimentally demonstrate, both under natural conditions and in the laboratory, the phenotypic plasticity of the flowers of this plant species that lives in semi-arid environments.

So in spring, Moricandia arvensis produce big flowers, in the shape of a cross, lilac in color and reflecting UV rays. These flowers attract mainly large long-tongued bees as pollinators. However, unlike most coexisting species, M.arvensis keeps flowering during the dry and hot summer of the western Mediterranean.

“This is due to its plasticity in key vegetative and photosynthetic traits that adjust their metabolism to these extreme conditions of temperature and water deficit”, explains one of the main authors of this work, the professor of Genetics at the UGR Francisco Perfectti Álvarez.

The high temperatures and the longer hours of light in summer trigger changes in the expression of more than 625 genes of this plant, which cause it to begin to produce radically different flowers: where in spring they were large and cross-shaped, in summer they are small and rounded; Where before they were lilac in color and reflected ultraviolet rays, now they are white and absorb these rays.

Also, these summer flowers attract a different set of pollinators, composed of more general species. This change in the pollinator pool allows this plant to successfully reproduce under difficult conditions.