Hybrid incompatibility resulting from deleterious gene combinations is thought to be an important step toward reproductive isolation and speciation. Here, we demonstrate involvement of a silent epiallele in hybrid incompatibility. In Arabidopsis thaliana accession Cvi-0, one of the two copies of a duplicated histidine biosynthesis gene, HISN6A, is mutated, making HISN6B essential. In contrast, in accession Col-0, HISN6A is essential because HISN6B is not expressed. Owing to these differences, Cvi-0 × Col-0 hybrid progeny that are homozygous for both Cvi-0 HISN6A and Col-0 HISN6B do not survive. We show that HISN6B of Col-0 is not a defective pseudogene, but a stably silenced epiallele. Mutating HISTONE DEACETYLASE 6 (HDA6), or the cytosine methyltransferase genes MET1 or CMT3, erases HISN6B's silent locus identity, reanimating the gene to circumvent hisn6a lethality and hybrid incompatibility. These results show that HISN6-dependent hybrid lethality is a revertible epigenetic phenomenon and provide additional evidence that epigenetic variation has the potential to limit gene flow between diverging populations of a species.
Keywords: DNA methylation; epigenetic inheritance; gene silencing; histone deacetylation; hybrid incompatibility.