Contribution of epigenetic variation to adaptation in Arabidopsis.
Schmid MW., Heichinger C., Coman Schmid D., Guthörl D., Gagliardini V., Bruggmann R., Aluri S., Aquino C., Schmid B., Turnbull LA., Grossniklaus U.
In plants, transgenerational inheritance of some epialleles has been demonstrated but it remains controversial whether epigenetic variation is subject to selection and contributes to adaptation. Simulating selection in a rapidly changing environment, we compare phenotypic traits and epigenetic variation between Arabidopsis thaliana populations grown for five generations under selection and their genetically nearly identical ancestors. Selected populations of two distinct genotypes show significant differences in flowering time and plant architecture, which are maintained for at least 2-3 generations in the absence of selection. While we cannot detect consistent genetic changes, we observe a reduction of epigenetic diversity and changes in the methylation state of about 50,000 cytosines, some of which are associated with phenotypic changes. Thus, we propose that epigenetic variation is subject to selection and can contribute to rapid adaptive responses, although the extent to which epigenetics plays a role in adaptation is still unclear.