Ecological and evolutionary plant epigenetics
Friday seminar by Oliver Bossdorf
Epigenetics is the study of molecular processes, mostly chemical modifications of DNA or histones, that affect gene activity, and that have thus the potential to create different phenotypes. During the last years, evolutionary ecologists have become increasingly excited about the potential relevance of such epigenetic processes for their field, because there is now evidence that epigenetic variation can be heritable and at least partly independent of DNA sequence variation, and that natural epigenetic variation exists within and among natural populations, which suggests that epigenetic processes could explain some of the variation of ecologically important traits that we observe in natural populations, and they may play a role in the rapid adaptation of organisms to environmental change. After a period of several years, where speculative conceptual papers outnumbered such that contained data, empirical research is now gaining some momentum. I will present examples from my own research, as well as from the research of others, that examine the ecological and evolutionary relevance of epigenetic variation, and that demonstrate the novel insights to be gained but also methodological challenges of such studies. Specifically, I will present results from experiments with epigenetic recombinant inbred lines of A. thaliana that show how variation in DNA methylation alone can cause substantial heritability in ecologically important traits, and that epigenetic epigenetic diversity, just as genetic diversity, has functional consequences.
Dr. Oliver Bossdorf
Institute of Plant Sciences
University of Bern