Less control, better understanding

01 October 2018 - By: Jonathan Ingram & Christine Raines

Less control, better understanding

Varying light and temperature regimes show how important field responses may be missed in plant growth chamber experiments


Annunziata MG, Apelt F, Carillo P, Krause U, Feil R, Koehl K, Lunn JE, Stitt M. 2018. Response of Arabidopsis primary metabolism and circadian clock to low night temperature in a natural light environment. Journal of Experimental Botany 69, 4881–4895.


Matsubara S. 2018. Growing plants in fluctuating environments: why bother? Journal of Experimental Botany 69,4651–4654. https://tinyurl.com/y7ctcyzs


Classically we want everything controlled in an experiment, and for plant scientists growth chambers appear to provide the perfect approach. But the natural environment is infinitely variable, and that’s what plants actually experience. Probing this uncomfortable gap in our understanding, Annunziata and co-workers have been examining metabolic changes under naturally variable conditions, both within a day and day to day. Their work had already shown how variable natural light has quite different effects, with sophisticated management of starch reserves but impaired N metabolism. In new research reported in Journal of Experimental Botany (highlighted in the eXtra Botany section by Shizue Matsubara), temperature fluctuations add to the complexity, and metabolome analysis shows how fluctuation in both temperature and light effect systemic changes. But interestingly connectivity in central metabolism is not further weakened by the interaction of these two variables and in fact low night temperature reversed impaired N metabolism. The authors suggest that the diel mechanism operates better with co-variation in these variables, perhaps reflecting the situation in nature where irradiance and temperature often change together. The authors also looked at circadian clock genes, and here there was greater overlap in transcript abundance comparing the controlled and variable diel temperature regimes. Nevertheless, there were still differences, and overall the research shows that unless experiments better capture plant responses under natural conditions, we are likely to miss mechanisms and processes which are important under field conditions. While noting that ‘the combinatorial explosion of multiple varying factors creates a huge experimental space’, it is suggested that re-examining well understood processes in near-field conditions may now help establish research priorities.

Jonathan Ingram, Senior Commissioning Editor & Christine Raines, Editor-in-Chief

Category: Journals

Jonathan Ingram & Christine Raines

Jonathan Ingram is Senior Commissioning Editor/ Science Writer for Journal of Experimental Botany. Jonathan moved from lab research into publishing and communications with the launch of Trends in Plant Science in 1995, then going on to New Phytologist and, in the third sector, Age UK and Mind.

Christine Raines is a Professor of Plant and Molecular Physiology at the University of Essex as well as being Editor in Chief of the Journal of Experimental Botany. Christine is also the President of the SEB.