Partial maintenance of organ-specific epigenetic marks during plant asexual reproduction leads to heritable phenotypic variation

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Sep 25;115(39):E9145-E9152. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1805371115. Epub 2018 Sep 10.


Plants differ from animals in their capability to easily regenerate fertile adult individuals from terminally differentiated cells. This unique developmental plasticity is commonly observed in nature, where many species can reproduce asexually through the ectopic initiation of organogenic or embryogenic developmental programs. While organ-specific epigenetic marks are not passed on during sexual reproduction, the fate of epigenetic marks during asexual reproduction and the implications for clonal progeny remain unclear. Here we report that organ-specific epigenetic imprints in Arabidopsis thaliana can be partially maintained during asexual propagation from somatic cells in which a zygotic program is artificially induced. The altered marks are inherited even over multiple rounds of sexual reproduction, becoming fixed in hybrids and resulting in heritable molecular and physiological phenotypes that depend on the identity of the founder tissue. Consequently, clonal plants display distinct interactions with beneficial and pathogenic microorganisms. Our results demonstrate how novel phenotypic variation in plants can be unlocked through altered inheritance of epigenetic marks upon asexual propagation.

Keywords: Arabidopsis thaliana; DNA methylation; asexual reproduction; epigenetics; transgenerational inheritance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / cytology
  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Plant Somatic Embryogenesis Techniques*
  • Reproduction, Asexual / physiology*