Stress is something that we’re all familiar with. A number of landmark studies on the effects of stress have been done in mammals. But it turns out that our cousins-from-another-ancestor don’t have dream lives either. Life is tough out there for a plant; you’re limited to one location where the conditions can change drastically over short periods of time. So evolution has given plants a little gift to cope: Epigenetics. Plants may have a number of similarities to us, but some interesting differences as well.
It turns out that crop plants are highly sensitive to temperature and a change of even a single degree can alter development and yield. That’s a pretty dramatic change for such a small environmental fluctuation. An understanding of how the epigenome responds so precisely to the environment has endless implications for science. So a talented team of international researchers from the UK, Australia, and Germany set out to boldly go where no plant biologist has gone before. On their journey they analyzed the thermal responses of the mysterious Pooid grass, which is also a model system for crops. Here’s what they encountered:
- “H2A.Z-nucleosome occupancy is more responsive to increases in ambient temperature in the reproductive tissue of developing grains compared with vegetative seedlings”
- “This difference correlates with strong phenotypic responses of developing grain to increased temperature, including early maturity and reduced yield”
- “RNAi silencing of components necessary for H2A.Z-nucleosome deposition is sufficient to phenocopy the effects of warmer temperature on grain development”
Overall this research presents some interesting proof-of-principle experiments that reveal a lot about how environmentally responsive an epigenome can be, while also making global warming a little more worrisome.
Check it out in Genome Biology