Stepwise increases in FT1 expression regulate seasonal progression of flowering in wheat (Triticum aestivum)

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Flowering is regulated by genes that respond to changing daylengths and temperature, which have been well studied using controlled conditions; however, the molecular processes underpinning flowering in nature remain poorly understood. Here, we investigate the genetic pathways that coordinate flowering and inflorescence development of wheat (Triticum aestivum) as daylengths extend naturally in the field, using lines that contain variant alleles for the key photoperiod gene, Photoperiod-1 (Ppd-1). We found flowering involves a stepwise increase in the expression of FLOWERING LOCUS T1 (FT1), which initiates under day-neutral conditions of early spring. The incremental rise in FT1 expression is overridden in plants that contain a photoperiod-insensitive allele of Ppd-1, which hastens the completion of spikelet development and accelerates flowering time. The accelerated inflorescence development of photoperiod-insensitive lines is promoted by advanced seasonal expression of floral meristem identity genes. The completion of spikelet formation is promoted by FLOWERING LOCUS T2, which regulates spikelet number and is activated by Ppd-1. In wheat, flowering under natural photoperiods is regulated by stepwise increases in the expression of FT1, which responds dynamically to extending daylengths to promote early inflorescence development. This research provides a strong foundation to improve yield potential by fine-tuning the photoperiod-dependent control of inflorescence development.