First Map of Wheat Epigenome Created

University of Liverpool scientists have successfully carried out the first ever genome-wide survey of heritable molecular changes regulating gene activity in wheat. Epigenetic marks are chemical tags which physically attach themselves to DNA, modifying its function without changing the genetic code. DNA methylation is a mechanism of epigenetic gene expression control that can be passed down to future generations, and new technology has allowed scientists to study DNA methylation across the complex wheat genome.

Using sodium bisulphate treatment and targeted gene enrichment, the research team observed that methylation is highly conserved across all three genomes of hexaploid wheat, but found evidence of sub-genome specific methylation. Methylation changes were also found to be associated with changes in gene-expression and, although not demonstrated, these changes are likely to affect the phenotype. The stability of methylation in the wheat genome was also shown, with some methylation patterns conserved for over 0.5 million years.

Prof. Anthony Hall, who led the study, said, "With the ability to characterize genome-wide patterns of methylation we can now address fundamental questions in wheat, such as the role of epigenetics in the domestication of crops and the stability and long-term function of methylation."

For more details, read the news release from the University of Liverpool.

This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)

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