Post-print of: Bloomfield, JA, Rose, TJ & King, GJ 2014, 'Sustainable harvest: managing plasticity for resilient crops', Plant Biotechnology Journal, vol. 12, no. 5, pp. 517-533.
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Maintaining crop production to feed a growing world population is a major challenge for this period of rapid global climate change. No consistent conceptual or experimental framework for crop plants integrates information at the levels of genome regulation, metabolism, physiology and response to growing environment. An important role for plasticity in plants is assisting in homeostasis in response to variable environmental conditions. Here, we outline how plant plasticity is facilitated by epigenetic processes that modulate chromatin through dynamic changes in DNA methylation, histone variants, small RNAs and transposable elements. We present examples of plant plasticity in the context of epigenetic regulation of developmental phases and transitions and map these onto the key stages of crop establishment, growth, floral initiation, pollination, seed set and maturation of harvestable product. In particular, we consider how feedback loops of environmental signals and plant nutrition affect plant ontogeny. Recent advances in understanding epigenetic processes enable us to take a fresh look at the crosstalk between regulatory systems that confer plasticity in the context of crop development. We propose that these insights into genotype × environment (G × E) interaction should underpin development of new crop management strategies, both in terms of information-led agronomy and in recognizing the role of epigenetic variation in crop breeding.