DNA methylation is the most stable epigenetic modification with a well studied maintenance mechanism in the mitotically dividing cell generations. The plant DNA is methylated at sites of three types, CG, CHG and CHH. The methylation mechanisms of these sites are different and involve functional activity of various DNA methyltransferases and their accessory factors, that largely define the genome locus specificity of methylation. The genome methylation pattern, DNA methylome, in plants is inheritable not only in the dividing cell generations but also to a considerable extent in generations of the whole plants. A great number of spontaneous epimutations, both natural and experimental ones, are known, that have discernible phenotypic manifestations and are stably inheritable in the plant generations as Mendelian traits. A fundamental distinction of such epimutations from classical mutations is their reversibility. The higher plants epigenome is much more flexible compared with their genome. The single-nucleotide epimutation frequency is hundredfolds higher than the mutation frequency. This variability is probably a main source of the plant phenotypic plasticity, that enables them to adapt to changing environment on the time scales too short for adaptive mutations to occur. A dramatic increase in the plant population epigenetic variability on a practically unchanged genetic context is observed when the essential environmental factors are rapidly changing. Being flexible enough for such adaptive changes, on the other hand, epigenome is stable enough for these adaptive variations to be inheritable between the plant generations. Obviously, the epigenetic variations, that enable plants to adapt to the fast changing environmental factors, serve as material for natural selection and other evolutionary processes on the respective time scales. A still another aspect of evolutionary significance is a capability of epigenetic mechanisms to induce transient bursts of genetic variability by transposon mobilization.
Russian Journal of Plant Physiology – Springer Journals
Published: Apr 1, 2016
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