The proof is in the bulb: glycerol influences key stages of lily development
A bulb is a whole plant condensed into an underground organ. A geophyte's bulb comprises both food reserves and important developmental history that may affect its whole growth. In Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), bulb size is associated with the plant's flowering pathway – vernalization or photoperiod – and also affects sprouting, flower quality and abortion rate. The aim of this study was to investigate the reasons for the major physiological differences between large and small bulbs. Lily bulbs start their development from secondary meristems along the stem, with large bulbs being heavier and bear more scales than small ones. Peeling the outer scales of a large bulb converts its physiological responses into those of a small bulb, implying that the physiological discrepancies in plants developing from large or small bulbs are mediated by factors inherent to the bulb. We therefore performed broad analyses of the metabolite composition in the scales of bulbs subjected to temperature regimes affecting further plant development. We found a striking association between the level of glycerol, a primary metabolite mostly synthesized in the outer scales, and a delay in sprouting and flowering time, and reduction in abortion rate. Exogenous glycerol application to the bulbs before planting corroborated these results. Moreover, transcriptome analyses showed that flowering‐promoting gene expression was downregulated in the bulb after glycerol treatment, while potential flowering inhibitor as well as a dormancy‐related gene expressions were upregulated. Based on these studies, we postulate that glycerol is a major factor influencing both vegetative and reproductive development in lily.
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