Planting the seeds of defense: Study finds stress triggers widespread epigenetic changes that aid in disease resistance
by PhyOrg staff
It was long thought that methylation, a crucial part of normal organism development, was a static modification of DNA that could not be altered by environmental conditions. New findings by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, however, suggest that the DNA of organisms exposed to stress undergo changes in DNA methylation patterns that alter how genes are regulated.
The scientists found that exposure to a pathogenic bacteria caused widespread changes in a plant’s epigenetic code, an extra layer of biochemical instructions in DNA that help control gene expression. The epigenetic changes were linked to the activity of genes responsible for coordinating a plant’s response to stress, suggesting that the epigenome may help organisms develop resistance to pathogens and other environmental stressors.
“This means the epigenome may not just be a static set of instructions, but also a way of rewriting those instructions based on experience,” says Joseph Ecker, a professor in Salk’s Genomic Analysis Laboratory, who led the research team. “Our findings, combined with other researchers’ findings, build the case that life experiences leave an imprint on our DNA.”