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Genet Res Int. 2012;2012:431531. doi: 10.1155/2012/431531. Epub 2012 Mar 21.

Aphids: a model for polyphenism and epigenetics.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ 08028, USA.


Environmental conditions can alter the form, function, and behavior of organisms over short and long timescales, and even over generations. Aphid females respond to specific environmental cues by transmitting signals that have the effect of altering the development of their offspring. These epigenetic phenomena have positioned aphids as a model for the study of phenotypic plasticity. The molecular basis for this epigenetic inheritance in aphids and how this type of inheritance system could have evolved are still unanswered questions. With the availability of the pea aphid genome sequence, new genomics technologies, and ongoing genomics projects in aphids, these questions can now be addressed. Here, we review epigenetic phenomena in aphids and recent progress toward elucidating the molecular basis of epigenetics in aphids. The discovery of a functional DNA methylation system, functional small RNA system, and expanded set of chromatin modifying genes provides a platform for analyzing these pathways in the context of aphid plasticity. With these tools and further research, aphids are an emerging model system for studying the molecular epigenetics of polyphenisms.

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