Plant Epigenetics: From genomes to epigenomes
AbstractEpigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression that occur without a change in the DNA sequence. In recent years, this field has attracted increasing attention as more epigenetic mechanisms affecting gene activity are being discovered. Such processes involve a complex interplay between DNA methylation, histone modifications, and non-coding RNAs, notably small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and micro RNAs (miRNAs). Epigenetic regulation is not only important for generating differentiated cell types during plant development, but also in maintaining the stability and integrity of their respective gene expression profiles. Although epigenetic processes are essential for normal development, they can become misdirected which leads to abnormal phenotypes and diseases, especially cancer. Sensing environmental changes and initiating a quick, reversible and appropriate response in terms of modified gene expression is of paramount importance for plants which are sessile autotrophs. Although epigenetic mechanisms help to protect plant cells from the activity of parasitic sequences such as transposable elements, this defense can complicate the genetic engineering process through transcriptional gene silencing. Epigenetic phenomena have economic relevance in the case of somaclonal variation: a genetic and phenotypic variation among clonally propagated plants from a single donor genotype. The success of sequencing projects on model plants has created widespread interest in exploring the epigenome in order to elucidate how plant cell decipher and execute the information stored and encoded in the genome. New high-throughput techniques are making it easier to map DNA methylation patterns on a large scale and results have already provided surprises.
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