Environmentally induced DNA methylation variants may mediate gene expression responses to environmental changes. If such induced variants are transgenerationally stable, there is potential for expression responses to persist over multiple generations. Our current knowledge in plants, however, is almost exclusively based on studies conducted in sexually reproducing species where the majority of DNA methylation changes are subject to resetting in germlines, limiting the potential for transgenerational epigenetics stress memory. Asexual reproduction circumvents germlines, and may therefore be more conducive to long-term inheritance of epigenetic marks. Taking advantage of the rapid clonal reproduction of the common duckweed Lemna minor, we hypothesize that long-term, transgenerational stress memory from exposure to high temperature can be detected in DNA methylation profiles. Using a reduced representation bisulphite sequencing approach (epiGBS), we show that temperature stress induces DNA hypermethylation at many CG and CHG cytosine contexts but not CHH. Additionally, differential methylation in CHG context that was observed was still detected in a subset of cytosines, even after 3–12 generations of culturing in a common environment. This demonstrates a memory effect of stress reflected in the methylome and that persists over multiple clonal generations. Structural annotation revealed that this memory effect in CHG methylation was enriched in transposable elements. The observed epigenetic stress memory is probably caused by stable transgenerational persistence of temperature-induced DNA methylation variants across clonal generations. To the extent that such epigenetic memory has functional consequences for gene expression and phenotypes, this result suggests potential for long-term modulation of stress responses in asexual plants.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics