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.
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. This analysis may provide pivotal information about how novel beneficial epiallelic combinations in crops may contribute to adaptative effects, and thus improved performance.
This work is currently funded by The Royal Society and the European Commission through its Seventh Framework Programme (AENEAS).