Sexual epigenetics: gender-specific methylation of a gene in the sex determining region of Populus balsamifera.

Bräutigam K, Soolanayakanahally R, Champigny M, Mansfield S, Douglas C, Campbell MM, Cronk Q

Sci Rep 2017 03 27; 7():45388

PMID: 28345647


Methylation has frequently been implicated in gender determination in plants. The recent discovery of the sex determining region (SDR) of balsam poplar, Populus balsamifera, pinpointed 13 genes with differentiated X and Y copies. We tested these genes for differential methylation using whole methylome sequencing of xylem tissue of multiple individuals grown under field conditions in two common gardens. The only SDR gene to show a marked pattern of gender-specific methylation is PbRR9, a member of the two component response regulator (type-A) gene family, involved in cytokinin signalling. It is an ortholog of Arabidopsis genes ARR16 and ARR17. The strongest patterns of differential methylation (mostly male-biased) are found in the putative promoter and the first intron. The 4th intron is strongly methylated in both sexes and the 5th intron is unmethylated in both sexes. Using a statistical learning algorithm we find that it is possible accurately to assign trees to gender using genome-wide methylation patterns alone. The strongest predictor is the region coincident with PbRR9, showing that this gene stands out against all genes in the genome in having the strongest sex-specific methylation pattern. We propose the hypothesis that PbRR9 has a direct, epigenetically mediated, role in poplar sex determination.

DNA Methylation and the Evolution of Developmental Complexity in Plants.

Bräutigam K, Cronk Q

Front Plant Sci 2018; 9():1447

PMID: 30349550


All land plants so far examined use DNA methylation to silence transposons (TEs). DNA methylation therefore appears to have been co-opted in evolution from an original function in TE management to a developmental function (gene regulation) in both phenotypic plasticity and in normal development. The significance of DNA methylation to the evolution of developmental complexity in plants lies in its role in the management of developmental pathways. As such it is more important in fine tuning the presence, absence, and placement of organs rather than having a central role in the evolution of new organs. Nevertheless, its importance should not be underestimated as it contributes considerably to the range of phenotypic expression and complexity available to plants: the subject of the emerging field of epi-evodevo. Furthermore, changes in DNA methylation can function as a “soft” mutation that may be important in the early stages of major evolutionary novelty.

Transgenic expression of fungal accessory hemicellulases in Arabidopsis thaliana triggers transcriptional patterns related to biotic stress and defense response.

Tsai AY, Chan K, Ho CY, Canam T, Capron R, Master ER, Bräutigam K

PLoS ONE 2017; 12(3):e0173094

PMID: 28253318


The plant cell wall is an abundant and renewable resource for lignocellulosic applications such as the production of biofuel. Due to structural and compositional complexities, the plant cell wall is, however, recalcitrant to hydrolysis and extraction of platform sugars. A cell wall engineering strategy to reduce this recalcitrance makes use of microbial cell wall modifying enzymes that are expressed directly in plants themselves. Previously, we constructed transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana constitutively expressing the fungal hemicellulases: Phanerochaete carnosa glucurnoyl esterase (PcGCE) and Aspergillus nidulans α-arabinofuranosidase (AnAF54). While the PcGCE lines demonstrated improved xylan extractability, they also displayed chlorotic leaves leading to the hypothesis that expression of such enzymes in planta resulted in plant stress. The objective of this study is to investigate the impact of transgenic expression of the aforementioned microbial hemicellulases in planta on the host arabidopsis. More specifically, we investigated transcriptome profiles by short read high throughput sequencing (RNAseq) from developmentally distinct parts of the plant stem. When compared to non-transformed wild-type plants, a subset of genes was identified that showed differential transcript abundance in all transgenic lines and tissues investigated. Intriguingly, this core set of genes was significantly enriched for those involved in plant defense and biotic stress responses. While stress and defense-related genes showed increased transcript abundance in the transgenic plants regardless of tissue or genotype, genes involved in photosynthesis (light harvesting) were decreased in their transcript abundance potentially reflecting wide-spread effects of heterologous microbial transgene expression and the maintenance of plant homeostasis. Additionally, an increase in transcript abundance for genes involved in salicylic acid signaling further substantiates our finding that transgenic expression of microbial cell wall modifying enzymes induces transcriptome responses similar to those observed in defense responses.