Inter-species functional compatibility of the Theobroma cacao and Arabidopsis FT orthologs: 90 million years of functional conservation of meristem identity genes

S. F. Prewitt, A. Shalit-Kaneh, S. N. Maximova, M. J. Guiltinan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: In angiosperms the transition to flowering is controlled by a complex set of interacting networks integrating a range of developmental, physiological, and environmental factors optimizing transition time for maximal reproductive efficiency. The molecular mechanisms comprising these networks have been partially characterized and include both transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulatory pathways. Florigen, encoded by FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT) orthologs, is a conserved central integrator of several flowering time regulatory pathways. To characterize the molecular mechanisms involved in controlling cacao flowering time, we have characterized a cacao candidate florigen gene, TcFLOWERING LOCUS T (TcFT). Understanding how this conserved flowering time regulator affects cacao plant’s transition to flowering could lead to strategies to accelerate cacao breeding. Results: BLAST searches of cacao genome reference assemblies identified seven candidate members of the CENTRORADIALIS/TERMINAL FLOWER1/SELF PRUNING gene family including a single florigen candidate. cDNA encoding the predicted cacao florigen was cloned and functionally tested by transgenic genetic complementation in the Arabidopsis ft-10 mutant. Transgenic expression of the candidate TcFT cDNA in late flowering Arabidopsis ft-10 partially rescues the mutant to wild-type flowering time. Gene expression studies reveal that TcFT is spatially and temporally expressed in a manner similar to that found in Arabidopsis, specifically, TcFT mRNA is shown to be both developmentally and diurnally regulated in leaves and is most abundant in floral tissues. Finally, to test interspecies compatibility of florigens, we transformed cacao tissues with AtFT resulting in the remarkable formation of flowers in tissue culture. The morphology of these in vitro flowers is normal, and they produce pollen that germinates in vitro with high rates. Conclusion: We have identified the cacao CETS gene family, central to developmental regulation in angiosperms. The role of the cacao’s single FT-like gene (TcFT) as a general regulator of determinate growth in cacao was demonstrated by functional complementation of Arabidopsis ft-10 late-flowering mutant and through gene expression analysis. In addition, overexpression of AtFT in cacao resulted in precocious flowering in cacao tissue culture demonstrating the highly conserved function of FT and the mechanisms controlling flowering in cacao.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number218
JournalBMC plant biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Plant Science


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