In Cortijo, S. et al. Mapping the Epigenetic Basis of Complex Traits (2014) Science
Express. Researchers from the University of Groningen Bioinformatics center, and their collaborators, have made the exciting discovery that epigenotypes in plants result in complex phenotypes that are stably inherited, and subject to selection.
The team prepared inbred Arabidopsis samples with the same genomes, but differing methylomes. Methyl-seq analysis showed that certain differentially methylated regions (DMRs) behave as quantitative trait loci (QTL epi). These QTL epi were demonstrated to be responsible for 60-90% of two complex traits, flowering time and primary root length. The same QTL epi were also found functioning in wildtype Arabidopsis.
Co-Team leader, Assistant professor Frank Johannes explains ‘We used the same method to locate regions in the DNA, not with different sequences but with different epigenetic marks that contribute to certain traits in the plant. This is a breakthrough, because it changes the way we view genetics. And it may even be of huge economic importance.’
From a plant evolution perspective, this new information could answer the controversial “problem of missing heritability”.