Exploring and exploiting epigenetic variation in crops

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King, GJ, Amoah, S & Kurup, S 2010, 'Exploring and exploiting Epigenetic variation in crops', Genome

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This review addresses the mechanisms by which epigenetic variation modulates plant gene regulation and phenotype. In particular we explore the scope for harnessing such processes within the context of crop genetic improvement. We focus on the role of DNA methylation as an epigenetic mark that contributes to epiallelic diversity and modulation of gene regulation. We outline the prevalence and distribution of epigenetic marks in relation to eukaryote developmental processes, and in particular identify where this may be relevant to crop traits both in terms of specific developmental stages and in relation to physiological responses to environmental change. Recent whole genome surveys have identified specific characteristics of the distribution of DNA methylation within plant genomes. Together with greater understanding of the mode of action of different maintenance and de novo methyltransferases, this provides an opportunity to modulate DNA methylation status at specific loci as an intervention strategy in crop genetic improvement. We discuss alternative approaches that may be suitable for harnessing such induced epiallelic variation. Most of the discussion is associated with Brassica crops, which demonstrate considerable morphological plasticity, segmental chromosomal duplication, and polyploidy.

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