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Trends Ecol Evol. 2004 Jun;19(6):309-14.

Epialleles via DNA methylation: consequences for plant evolution.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.


In plants, naturally occurring methylation of genes can affect the level of gene expression. Variation among individuals in the degree of methylation of a gene, termed epialleles, produces novel phenotypes that are heritable across generations. To date, ecologically important genes with methylated epialleles have been found to affect floral shape, vegetative and seed pigmentation, pathogen resistance and development in plants. Currently, the extent to which epiallelic variation is an important common contributor to phenotypic variation in natural plant populations and its fitness consequences are not known. Because epiallele phenotypes can have identical underlying DNA sequences, response to selection on these phenotypes is likely to differ from expectations based on traditional models of microevolution. Research is needed to understand the role of epialleles in natural plant populations. Recent advances in molecular genetic techniques could enable population biologists to screen for epiallelic variants within plant populations and disentangle epigenetic from more standard genetic sources of phenotypic variance, such as additive genetic variance, dominance variance, epistasis and maternal genetic effects.


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