Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified patterns of epigenomic diversity that not only allow plants to adapt to various environments, but could also benefit crop production and the study of human diseases.
This graphic depicts a collection of wild Arabidopsis thaliana from around the world that have adapted to their local environment. This collection of plants was used to understand the patterns of population epigenomic diversity within a species.
Photographs were contributed by Patrick Gooden, Kathleen Donohue and @2011 Google. Graphic was designed by Jamie Simon
Published March 6 in Nature, the findings show that in addition to genetic diversity found in plants throughout the world, their epigenomic makeup is as varied as the environments in which they are found. Epigenomics is the study of the pattern of chemical markers that serve as a regulatory layer on top of the DNA sequence. Depending on where they grow, the plants' epigenomic differences may allow them to rapidly adapt to their environments.
Epigenomic modifications alter gene expression without changing the letters of the DNA alphabet (A-T-C-G), providing cells with an additional tool to fine-tune how genes control the cellular machinery. These changes occur not only in plants, but in humans as well.
"We looked at plants collected from around the world and found that their epigenomes are surprisingly different," says senior author Joseph R. Ecker, a professor in Salk's Plant Biology Laboratory and holder of the Salk International Council Chair in Genetics. "This additional diversity may create a way for plants to rapidly adapt to diverse environments without any genetic change in their DNA, which takes a very long time."
By understanding epigenomic alterations in plants, scientists may be able to manipulate them for various purposes, including biofuels and creating crops that can withstand stressful events such as drought. That knowledge of epigenomic changes in crop plants could tell producers what to breed for and could have a huge impact on identifying plants that can survive certain conditions and adapt to environmental stressors, says Ecker, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator.
Using MethylC-Seq, a method for mapping epigenomic changes developed by Ecker, the researchers analyzed methylation patterns from a population of Arabidopsis thaliana, a modest mustard weed that has become to plant biology what laboratory mice are to animal biology. The plants were from a variety of climates in the Northern Hemisphere, from Europe to Asia and Sweden to the Cape Verde Islands. Ecker's team examined the genomes and methylomes of A. thaliana, the makeup of their entire genetic and epigenomic codes, respectively, which is the first step toward understanding the impact of epigenetic changes on the plants' physical characteristics and ability to adapt to their environment.
Methylation silencing also occurs in humans—and that has implications for treating cancer, a hallmark of which is the silencing of tumor suppressor genes. "If these genes are turned off by the epigenome, they could potentially be turned back on by removing the DNA methylation," says study co-lead author Matthew Schultz, a graduate student in Ecker's lab. Understanding how these methylation variants form in the wild will help toward better engineering of epigenomes.
Ecker's team will next study how methylation variations affect the traits of plants. They will examine stress-induced epigenomic changes and how they might provide clues as to which alterations are most important for the plants.
Other researchers on the study were Mark A. Urich, Joseph R. Nery, Mattia Pelizzola, Andrew Alix, Richard B. McCosh, and Huaming Chen, from the Salk Institute; and Ondrej Libiger and Nicholas J. Schork of The Scripps Research Institute.
The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (Grant GBMF3034).
About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world's preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused on both discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer's, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.
Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.
Andy Hoang | EurekAlert!
'Y' a protein unicorn might matter in glaucoma
23.10.2017 | Georgia Institute of Technology
Microfluidics probe 'cholesterol' of the oil industry
23.10.2017 | Rice University
Salmonellae are dangerous pathogens that enter the body via contaminated food and can cause severe infections. But these bacteria are also known to target...
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
23.10.2017 | Event News
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
23.10.2017 | Life Sciences
23.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.10.2017 | Health and Medicine