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Hidden layer of genome unveils how plants may adapt to environments throughout the world
Date:3/6/2013

-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.

"We expected variation in methylation patterns among groups of plants from around the globe," says co-lead author Robert J. Schmitz, a postdoctoral researcher in Ecker's lab. "The amount, however, was far greater than we ever anticipated."

By analyzing these patterns, Ecker's team was able to chart their effects on the activity of genes in the plants' genome. Scientists know that methylation can inactivate genes, but in contrast to DNA mutations, methylation patterns are reversible, giving the plants the ability to temporarily activate genes. The identification of genes that are epigenetically regulated has greatly narrowed the potential candidates important for environmental adaptation.

Methylation silencing also occurs in humansand 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
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Contact: Andy Hoang
AHoang@salk.edu
619-861-5811
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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