A FLOWERING LOCUS T ortholog is associated with photoperiod-insensitive flowering in hemp (Cannabis sativa L.)

Plant J. 2024 Apr 16. doi: 10.1111/tpj.16769. Online ahead of print.


Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is an extraordinarily versatile crop, with applications ranging from medicinal compounds to seed oil and fibre products. Cannabis sativa is a short-day plant, and its flowering is highly controlled by photoperiod. However, substantial genetic variation exists for photoperiod sensitivity in C. sativa, and photoperiod-insensitive ("autoflower") cultivars are available. Using a bi-parental mapping population and bulked segregant analysis, we identified Autoflower2, a 0.5 Mbp locus significantly associated with photoperiod-insensitive flowering in hemp. Autoflower2 contains an ortholog of the central flowering time regulator FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT) from Arabidopsis thaliana which we termed CsFT1. We identified extensive sequence divergence between alleles of CsFT1 from photoperiod-sensitive and insensitive cultivars of C. sativa, including a duplication of CsFT1 and sequence differences, especially in introns. Furthermore, we observed higher expression of one of the CsFT1 copies found in the photoperiod-insensitive cultivar. Genotyping of several mapping populations and a diversity panel confirmed a correlation between CsFT1 alleles and photoperiod response, affirming that at least two independent loci involved in the photoperiodic control of flowering, Autoflower1 and Autoflower2, exist in the C. sativa gene pool. This study reveals the multiple independent origins of photoperiod insensitivity in C. sativa, supporting the likelihood of a complex domestication history in this species. By integrating the genetic relaxation of photoperiod sensitivity into novel C. sativa cultivars, expansion to higher latitudes will be permitted, thus allowing the full potential of this versatile crop to be reached.

Keywords: Cannabis sativa; QTL‐seq; RNA‐seq; adaptation; bulked segregant analysis; flowering time; genomics.