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Revolutionary new view on heritability in plants
Date:2/11/2014

ave successfully linked variation in epigenetic markers to complex traits such as flowering time and plant architecture in these Arabidopsis strains. They employed techniques that are typically used by geneticists to locate the DNA regions with sequence variations that contribute to complex traits. These are called quantitative trait loci or QTLs.

Breakthrough

Johannes: 'We used the same method to locate regions in the DNA, not with different sequences but with different epigenetic marks that contribute to certain traits in the plant.' It is the first time that epigenetic differences have been unequivocally shown to contribute to heritable traits. 'This is a breakthrough, because it changes the way we view genetics. And it may even be of huge economic importance.'

Commercially interesting

Although the Science Express paper is based on heritability over just seven generations, other results with the Arabidopsis strains show that epigenetic traits are stably inherited for at least 20 generations. Johannes: 'Such stable traits can be of interest to plant breeders. Apart from variations in the gene sequence, epigenetic variation may contribute to commercially interesting traits.'

Evolution

The epigenetic markers may also affect evolution, independent of DNA sequence. 'They cause variation on which natural selection can act', Johannes explains. As such, traits caused by epigenetic variation may make an independent contribution to changes in a species. 'Our findings were made using inbred strains, but we also have evidence that we can find some of the same epigenetic QTLs in wild populations of this species as well.' This suggests it is not just a laboratory artefact but something that plays a role in nature.

Revision textbooks

Johannes points out that 'because epigenetic inheritance differs between plants and mammals, it is by no means certain that similar processes p
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Contact: Dr. Frank Johannes
f.johannes@rug.nl
31-503-638-079
University of Groningen
Source:Eurekalert

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