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Prickly holly reveals ability to adapt genetics to environmental change
Date:12/12/2012

Such change is known as epigenetics and to explore the biological mechanics behind this process the scientists turned to methylation, a chemical modification of DNA which does not alter the DNA sequence of an organism, but can have decisive consequences.

DNA methylation profiles, heterophylly and herbivory were studied in 40 holly trees from a forest in South Eastern Spain. 39 were found to be heterophyllous, with branches displaying prickly and non-prickly leaves in neighbouring positions.

The team then explored the feeding activity of browsing deer and goats to see if this was the environmental factor driving this genetic diversity. The team found a significant relationship between recent feeding and the growth of prickly leaves, noting that under the height of 2.5 meters, the average reach of an adult red deer, leaves were consistently pricklier.

The results revealed a clear link herbivore activity, phenotypic plasticity and epigenetic changes involving modifications in the methylation status of cytosine, one of the building blocks of DNA molecules. This supports the theory that epigenetic variation alone can be a source of variation in natural plant populations that does not require changes in the DNA sequence.

"An increasing number of studies support the idea that the presence of spines and prickles in plants is a response to herbivore activity, and our research suggests this is the case with holly," concluded Dr Herrera. "The ability of plants to respond to environmental changes through quick epigenetic modifications makes also one to feel a bit more optimistic about plant survival in a quickly changing world."


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Contact: Ben Norman
Sciencenewsroom@wiley.com
44-012-437-70375
Wiley
Source:Eurekalert

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