12 January - 20 June 2016

Scientists create first map of the wheat “epigenome”

16 December 2015

Staple foods such as rice, maize and wheat provide two thirds of the world’s energy intake (excluding meat). Wheat is the third most eaten crop with hundreds of millions of tonnes produced each year. DNA methylation is one mechanism of epigenetic gene expression control that can be passed between generations, allowing DNA function to be modified without changing the underlying genetic code. Researchers from the University of Liverpool have therefore conducted a genome-wide survey of DNA methylation in wheat in the hope that further knowledge of the complex genome can “open up a new level of genetic variation that can be exploited by breeders.”

The team used a combination of targeted gene enrichment and sodium bisulphate treatment to demonstrate the majority of the methylation is conserved across all three genomes of hexaploid wheat. It was found that the degree and context of genome-methylation of wheat is comparable to that of rice. With the capability to characterise genome-wide patterns of methylation the team hope to address the role of epigenetics in the domestication of crops and other important biological questions. Professor Hall, the lead researcher, hopes that one day the role of methylation on traits such as disease resistance and yield variability will be understood.

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