In plants, the gene expression and associated phenotypes can be modulated by dynamic changes in DNA methylation, occasionally being fixed in certain genomic loci and inherited stably as epialleles. Epiallelic variations in a population can occur as methylation changes at an individual cytosine position, methylation changes within a stretch of genomic regions, and chromatin changes in certain loci. Here, we focus on methylated regions, since it is unclear whether variations at individual methylated cytosines can serve any regulatory function, and the evidence for heritable chromatin changes independent of genetic changes is limited. While DNA methylation is known to affect and regulate wide arrays of plant phenotypes, most epialleles in the form of methylated regions have not been assigned any biological function. Here, we review how epialleles can be established in plants, serve a regulatory function, and are involved in adaptive processes. Recent studies suggest that most epialleles occur as byproducts of genetic variations, mainly from structural variants and Transposable Element (TE) activation. Nevertheless, epialleles that occur spontaneously independent of any genetic variations have also been described across different plant species. Here, we discuss how epialleles that are dependent and independent of genetic architecture are stabilized in the plant genome and how methylation can regulate a transcription relative to its genomic location.
- Agricultural innovation
- DNA methylation
- Gene regulation
- Transgenerational inheritance
- Transposable elements