5-Methylcytosine, a chemical modification of DNA, is a covalent modification found in the genomes of both plants and animals. Epigenetic inheritance of phenotypes mediated by DNA methylation is well established in plants. Most of the known mechanisms of establishing, maintaining and modifying DNA methylation have been worked out in the reference plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Major functions of DNA methylation in plants include regulation of gene expression and silencing of transposable elements (TEs) and repetitive sequences, both of which have parallels in mammalian biology, involve interaction with the transcriptional machinery, and may have profound effects on the regulatory networks in the cell. Methylome and transcriptome dynamics have been investigated in development and environmental responses in Arabidopsis and agriculturally and ecologically important plants, revealing the interdependent relationship among genomic context, methylation patterns, and expression of TE and protein coding genes. Analyses of methylome variation among plant natural populations and species have begun to quantify the extent of genetic control of methylome variation vs. true epimutation, and model the evolutionary forces driving methylome evolution in both short and long time scales. The ability of DNA methylation to positively or negatively modulate binding affinity of transcription factors (TFs) provides a natural link from genome sequence and methylation changes to transcription. Technologies that allow systematic determination of methylation sensitivities of TFs, in native genomic and methylation context without confounding factors such as histone modifications, will provide baseline datasets for building cell-type- and individual-specific regulatory networks that underlie the establishment and inheritance of complex traits. This article is categorized under: Laboratory Methods and Technologies > Genetic/Genomic Methods Biological Mechanisms > Regulatory Biology.
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