Genome-wide epigenetic perturbation jump-starts patterns of heritable variation found in nature.
Genetics. 2011 Aug; 188(4):1015-7
The inheritance of acquired characters has been brought up time and again from long before the study of genetics, or indeed any 'science'. After widespread rejection of the concept, this paper could be considered to leave the coffin wide open. In 5724 Arabidopsis plants, alteration of DNA methylation caused heritable phenotypic diversity in adaptive traits, with patterns closely resembling natural accessions and diverse variation in complex traits.
These changes are, of course, epigenetic rather than being caused by rare mutations in the DNA but are induced rapidly and copy the level and nature of variation in populations that have diverged over thousands of generations. The authors analyse heritability of epigenetic characters and then have trials under different ecological conditions, which showed that the new heritable patterns are related to adaptive traits. The authors note that it is remarkable that the epigenetic characters, a product of a single epigenomic perturbation, are so similar to the evolutionary differences generated over thousands of years. Interesting future targets include testing whether epigenetic quantitative trait loci (QTLs) co-map with genetic QTLs, the conditions of instability and reversion or fixation, and of course the significance of epigenetic changes in evolution. Further insight into the mechanisms -- mobile elements, DNA methylation, and chromatin modifications -- will be valuable to enhance understanding of the evolution of the processes involved and their manipulation.
Heslop-Harrison P: F1000Prime Recommendation of [Roux F et al., Genetics 2011, 188(4):1015-7]. In F1000Prime, 15 Jun 2011; DOI: 10.3410/f.10693956.11582054. F1000Prime.com/10693956#eval11582054
F1000Prime Recommendations, Dissents and Comments for [Roux F et al., Genetics 2011, 188(4):1015-7]. In F1000Prime, 11 Dec 2013; F1000Prime.com/10693956
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We extensively phenotyped 6000 Arabidopsis plants with experimentally perturbed DNA methylomes as well as a diverse panel of natural accessions in a common garden. We found that alterations in DNA methylation not only caused heritable phenotypic diversity but also produced heritability patterns closely resembling those of the natural accessions. Our findings indicate that epigenetically induced and naturally occurring variation in complex traits share part of their polygenic architecture and may offer complementary adaptation routes in ecological settings.
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