The Potential for the Evolution of Plant Phenotypic Plasticity
Zhang, Y.-Y., Fischer, M., Colot, V. and Bossdorf, O. 2012. Epigenetic variation creates potential for evolution of plant phenotypic plasticity. New Phytologist 197: 314-322.
In an attempt to answer this "key question," Zhang et al. conducted a glasshouse experiment in which they tested the response of a large number of epigenetic recombinant inbred lines or epiRILs (i.e., lines that are nearly isogenic but highly variable at the level of DNA methylation, which latter phenomenon can stably alter the gene expression pattern in cells) of Arabidopsis thaliana to drought and increased nutrient conditions.
Based on their analysis, the four researchers say they found "significant heritable variation among epiRILs both in the means of several ecologically important plant traits and in their plasticities to drought and nutrients." And they state that the significant selection gradients of the several mean traits and plasticities they discovered "suggest that selection could act on this epigenetically based phenotypic variation."
Given such findings, in the concluding sentence of their paper's abstract Zhang et al. say their study "provides evidence that variation in DNA methylation can cause substantial heritable variation of ecologically important plant traits, including root allocation, drought tolerance and nutrient plasticity, and that rapid evolution based on epigenetic variation alone should thus be possible."
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