Europe-wide study on the epigenetics of field pennycress
University of Tübingen-led research team investigates influence of genes and environment on natural epigenetic variations of the common wild plant
Small differences in DNA sequence contribute to heritable variations within a species, as do chemical modifications of DNA called epigenetic changes. In order to better understand the significance of such epigenetic changes for the evolution of plants, an international research team led by Professor Oliver Bossdorf from the Institute of Evolution and Ecology at the University of Tübingen investigated a large number of populations of Thlaspi arvense or field pennycress in a Europe-wide study. The researchers linked DNA sequences and environmental data from the places of origin with the epigenetic modifications of this wild plant. According to their results, a large part of the epigenetic variation is mainly determined by the DNA sequence. However, part of the epigenetic variation is strongly related to the climatic conditions of the place from which the plant originated. In agriculture, field pennycress could become important in the future as a winter cover crop and as a source of biofuel. The study has been published in the latest edition of PLoS Genetics.
Thlaspi arvense is an annual white-flowering wild plant in the crucifer family, native to much of Europe and Asia. Its common name comes from the round shape of its seed pods, which are reminiscent of coins. For the study, the research team collected seeds from 207 wild pennycress populations throughout Europe and grew the seeds in the laboratory under standard conditions. From samples of these plants, they then analyzed the complete DNA sequences, as well as the 'methlyomes', the complete sequence of DNA methylations – important epigenetic changes that influence whether and how often certain genes are transcribed.
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