The biological clock of a popular food crop controls close to three-quarters of its genes, according to research from Dartmouth College.

The genetic research shows how the crop uses internal responses to the day-night cycle — known as circadian rhythms — to regulate processes such as reproduction, photosynthesis and reactions to stressful conditions.

The study, published in the journal eLife, can help researchers target genes to improve growth and stress resilience when a plant is moved to a new region or encounters changing climate conditions.

“As plants are cultivated in new geographic zones they must select traits that enable them to survive in different conditions,” said C. Robertson McClung, a professor of biology at Dartmouth and senior researcher on the study. “Many of these traits are in circadian clock genes.”

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