Delayed fluorescence as a universal tool for the measurement of circadian rhythms in higher plants

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Abstract

The plant circadian clock plays an important role in enhancing performance and increasing vegetative yield. Much of our current understanding of the mechanism and function of the plant clock has come from the development of Arabidopsis thaliana as a model circadian organism. Key to this rapid progress has been the development of robust circadian markers, specifically circadian-regulated luciferase reporter genes. Studies of the clock in crop species and non-model organisms are currently hindered by the absence of a simple high-throughput universal assay for clock function, accuracy and robustness. Delayed fluorescence (DF) is a fundamental process occurring in all photosynthetic organisms. It is luminescence-produced post-illumination due to charge recombination in photosystem II (PSII) leading to excitation of P680 and the subsequent emission of a photon. Here we report that the amount of DF oscillates with an approximately 24-h period and is under the control of the circadian clock in a diverse selection of plants. Thus, DF provides a simple clock output that may allow the clock to be assayedin vivoin any photosynthetic organism. Furthermore, our data provide direct evidence that the nucleus-encoded, three-loop circadian oscillator underlies rhythms of PSII activity in the chloroplast. This simple, high-throughput and non-transgenic assay could be integrated into crop breeding programmes, the assay allows the selection of plants that have robust and accurate clocks, and possibly enhanced performance and vegetative yield. This assay could also be used to characterize rapidly the role and function of any novel Arabidopsis circadian mutant.

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