Epigenetic Phenomena and the Evolution of Plant Allopolyploids

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2003 Dec;29(3):365-79. doi: 10.1016/s1055-7903(03)00213-6.


Allopolyploid speciation is widespread in plants, yet the molecular requirements for successful orchestration of coordinated gene expression for two divergent and reunited genomes are poorly understood. Recent studies in several plant systems have revealed that allopolyploid genesis under both synthetic and natural conditions often is accompanied by rapid and sometimes evolutionarily conserved epigenetic changes, including alteration in cytosine methylation patterns, rapid silencing in ribosomal RNA and protein-coding genes, and de-repression of dormant transposable elements. These changes are inter-related and likely arise from chromatin remodeling and its effects on epigenetic codes during and subsequent to allopolyploid formation. Epigenetic modifications could produce adaptive epimutations and novel phenotypes, some of which may be evolutionarily stable for millions of years, thereby representing a vast reservoir of latent variation that may be episodically released and made visible to selection. This epigenetic variation may contribute to several important attributes of allopolyploidy, including functional diversification or subfunctionalization of duplicated genes, genetic and cytological diploidization, and quenching of incompatible inter-genomic interactions that are characteristic of allopolyploids. It is likely that the evolutionary success of allopolyploidy is in part attributable to epigenetic phenomena that we are only just beginning to understand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Gene Silencing
  • Genes / genetics
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Polyploidy*
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • RNA, Ribosomal