The work was led by Professor Martin Howard and Professor Caroline Dean at the John Innes Centre, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC. Funding for the project came from BBSRC, the European Research Council, and The Royal Society.
Professor Dean said "There are quite a few examples that we now know of where the activity of genes can be affected in the long term by environmental factors. And in some cases the environment of an individual can actually affect the biology or physiology of their offspring but there is no change to the genome sequence."
For example, some studies have shown that in families where there was a severe food shortage in the grandparents' generation, the children and grandchildren have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which could be explained by epigenetic memory. But until now there hasn't been a clear mechanism to explain how individuals could develop a "memory" of a variable factor, such as nutrition.
The team used the example of how plants "remember" the length of the cold winter period in order to exquisitely time flowering so that pollination, development, seed dispersal and germination can all happen at the appropriate time.
Professor Howard said "We already knew quite a lot about the genes involved in flowering and it was clear that something goes on in winter that affects the timing of flowering, according to the length of the cold period."
Using a combination of mathematical modelling and experimental analysis the team has uncovered the system by which a key gene called FLC is either completely off or completely on in any one cell and also later in its progeny. They found that the longer the cold period, the higher the proportion of cells that have FLC stably flipped to the off position. This delays flowering and is down to a phenomenon known as epigenetic memory.
Epigenetic memory comes in various guises, but one important form involves histones - the proteins around which DNA is wrapped. Particular chemical modifications can be attached to histones and these modifications can then affect the expression of nearby genes, turning them on or off. These modifications can be inherited by daughter cells, when the cells divide, and if they occur in the cells that form gametes (e.g. sperm in mammals or pollen in plants) then they can also pass on to offspring.
Together with Dr Andrew Angel (also at the John Innes Centre), Professor Howard produced a mathematical model of the FLC system. The model predicted that inside each individual cell, the FLC gene should be either completely activated or completely silenced, with the fraction of cells switching to the silenced state increasing with longer periods of cold.
To provide experimental evidence to back up the model, Dr Jie Song in Prof. Dean's group used a technique where any cell that had the FLC gene switched on, showed up blue under a microscope. From her observations, it was clear that cells were either completely switched or not switched at all, in agreement with the theory.
Dr Song also showed that the histone proteins near the FLC gene were modified during the cold period, in such a way that would account for the switching off of the gene.
Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said "This work not only gives us insight into a phenomenon that is crucial for future food security – the timing of flowering according to climate variation – but it uncovers an important mechanism that is at play right across biology. This is a great example of where the research that BBSRC funds can provide not only a focus on real life problems, but also a grounding in the fundamental tenets of biology that will underpin the future of the field. It also demonstrates the value of multidisciplinary working at the interface between biology, physics and mathematics."
Nancy Mendoza | EurekAlert!
Microscope measures muscle weakness
16.11.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Good preparation is half the digestion
16.11.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Stoffwechselforschung
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine
16.11.2018 | Life Sciences
16.11.2018 | Life Sciences