[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Genomic imprinting is a parent-of-origin phenomenon whereby gene expression is restricted to the allele inherited from either the maternal or paternal parent. It has been described from flowering plants and eutherian mammals and may have evolved due to parental conflicts over resource allocation. In mammals, imprinted genes are responsible for ensuring correct rates of embryo development and for preventing parthenogenesis. The molecular basis of imprinting depends upon the presence of differential epigenetic marks on the alleles inherited from each parent, although in plants the exact mechanisms that control imprinting are still unclear in many cases. Recent studies have identified large numbers of candidate imprinted genes from Arabidopsis thaliana and other plants (see Chap. 7 by Köhler and colleagues elsewhere in this volume) providing the tools for more thorough investigation into how imprinted gene networks (IGNs) are regulated. Analysis of genomic imprinting in animals has revealed important information on how IGNs are regulated during development, which often involves intermediate levels of imprinting. In some instances, small but significant changes in the degree of parental bias in gene expression have been linked to developmental traits, livestock phenotypes, and human disease. As some of the imprinted genes recently reported from plants show differential rather than complete (binary) imprinting, there is a clear need for tools that can quantify the degree of allelic expression bias occurring at a transcribed locus. In this chapter, we describe the use of Quantification of Allele-Specific Expression by Pyrosequencing(®) (QUASEP) as a tool suitable for this challenge. We describe in detail the factors which ensure that a Pyrosequencing(®) assay will be suitable for giving robust QUASEP and the problems which may be encountered during the study of imprinted genes by Pyrosequencing(®), with particular reference to our work in A. thaliana and in cattle. We also discuss some considerations with respect to the statistical analysis of the resulting data. Finally, we provide a brief overview of the future possibility of adapting Pyrosequencing(®) for analyzing other aspects of imprinting including the analysis of methylated regions.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM) is the major small RNA-mediated epigenetic pathway in plants. RdDM requires a specialized transcriptional machinery that comprises two plant-specific RNA polymerases - Pol IV and Pol V - and a growing number of accessory proteins, the functions of which in the RdDM mechanism are only partially understood. Recent work has revealed variations in the canonical RdDM pathway and identified factors that recruit Pol IV and Pol V to specific target sequences. RdDM, which transcriptionally represses a subset of transposons and genes, is implicated in pathogen defence, stress responses and reproduction, as well as in interallelic and intercellular communication.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The understanding of epigenetic mechanisms is necessary for assessing the potential impacts of epigenetics on plant growth, development and reproduction, and ultimately for the response of these factors to evolutionary pressures and crop breeding programs. This volume highlights the latest in laboratory and bioinformatic techniques used for the investigation of epigenetic phenomena in plants. Such techniques now allow genome-wide analyses of epigenetic regulation and help to advance our understanding of how epigenetic regulatory mechanisms affect cellular and genome function. To set the scene, we begin with a short background of how the field of epigenetics has evolved, with a particular focus on plant epigenetics. We consider what has historically been understood by the term "epigenetics" before turning to the advances in biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetics which have led to current-day definitions of the term. Following this, we pay attention to key discoveries in the field of epigenetics that have emerged from the study of unusual and enigmatic phenomena in plants. Many of these phenomena have involved cases of non-Mendelian inheritance and have often been dismissed as mere curiosities prior to the elucidation of their molecular mechanisms. In the penultimate section, consideration is given to how advances in molecular techniques are opening the doors to a more comprehensive understanding of epigenetic phenomena in plants. We conclude by assessing some opportunities, challenges, and techniques for epigenetic research in both model and non-model plants, in particular for advancing understanding of the regulation of genome function by epigenetic mechanisms.
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