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Impact of the environment on the plant epigenome

Plants are sessile organisms that are known for their adaptive plasticity to the changing environment. Environmental changes cannot only influence gene expression patterns but also affect the stability of the genome. Both of these responses seem to involve epigenetic mechanisms. Recent data suggest that environmental signals, in addition to the direct influence on plant growth, can also cause phenotypic changes that can be transmitted to the progeny, sometimes remaining stable for several generations. In this respect, the formation of environmental epialleles and their maintenance represents an important, yet unexplored, source of variation and adaptive power that can contribute to rapid evolution and more importantly to the improvement of crop plants.

stress memory

Our aim is to investigate (i) the mechanism(s) by which different environmental stresses are able to modify the plant epigenome and (ii) how these epigenetic modifications are maintained across generations. We are also investigating how these imprints are transmitted during cellular reprogramming and cloning.

This analysis may provide pivotal information about how novel beneficial genetic and epigenetic combinations may contribute to adaptative effects, and thus improved performance in crops.

This work is currently funded by The Royal Society, the European Commission through its Seventh Framework Programme (AENEAS) and BBSRC. We have collaborations with several stakeholders interesting in translating our findings in different crops.

See our latest publications:

Wibowo et al., (2016) Hyperosmotic stress memory in Arabidopsis is mediated by distinct epigenetically labile sites in the genome and restricted in the male germline by DNA glycosylase activity. eLife 5:e13546
Wibowo et al., (2018) Incomplete reprogramming of cell-specific epigenetic marks during asexual reproduction leads to heritable phenotypic variation in plants PNAS 116:8037-8042.