Studies have revealed the epigenetic regulatory mechanism of vernalization to promote flowering

Vernalization is an epigenetic phenomenon in which plants must undergo a period of sustained low temperature to transition from vegetative growth to reproductive growth, and is a mechanism by which plants adapt to seasonal fluctuations in temperature to ensure flowering at the appropriate time. Vernalization is an important factor affecting plant phenology and geographical distribution, and plays a very important role in pasture and crop production. DNA methylation is an important epigenetic marker that is involved in biological processes such as plant growth and development, and response to stress. However, the dynamic changes of DNA methylation during the vernalization of grasses and the regulatory mechanism of target genes are still poorly understood.

Recently, Professor Zhang Xinquan’s team from the College of Pratacultural Science and Technology of Sichuan Agricultural University published a research paper online in the authoritative journal of botany, Plant Physiology, which for the first time revealed the dynamic change of DNA methylation during the vernulation process of high-quality grass, as well as the epigenetic mechanism of DNA methylation to regulate gene expression and promote flowering.

The study compared the 2006-1 duck grass at different stages of vernalization and found that the increase in DNA methylation levels in the genome of duck grass in the early stages of vernalization was related to the dynamic changes in transcriptional levels of DNA methyltransferase and DNA demethylase. Further analysis showed that the expression levels of genes associated with the vernalization pathway (VIN3, SWM, VRN1 (AP1), VRT2, AGL20) were positively correlated with the CHH methylation levels in their promoter regions. The exogenous spraying of DNA methylation accelerators during the vernalization process of duck grass can significantly activate the expression of genes related to the vernalization pathway, thereby promoting the flowering of duck grass. The researchers further performed Arabidopsis overexpression assays on the RNA-mediated GENE methylation pathway-related gene DgPAPS4, and the results showed that DgPAPS4 can activate the expression of AtAGL20 by increasing the level of DNA methylation, resulting in early flowering phenotype of plants, further confirming the regulatory role of DNA supermethylation in the promotion of flowering by vernalization.


Image source: College of Grassland Science and Technology, Sichuan Agricultural University

In summary, the study analyzed the dynamic change of DNA methylation in the process of vernalization, and revealed the key role of vernalization-induced DNA hypermethylation in the germination and development of flower primordial groups. The results will provide an important theoretical basis for the domestication of cold-season forage and crop cultivation, variety improvement and flowering regulation such as duck grass.

Professor Zhang Xinquan and Professor Huang Linkai of Sichuan Agricultural University are the co-corresponding authors of the paper, doctoral student Yang Zhongfu is the first author of the paper, and Yan Haidong, a graduate of Sichuan Agricultural University and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Georgia, is the co-first author. Professor Wang Jianping of the University of Florida, Associate Professor Nie Gang and Dr. Feng Guangyan of Sichuan Agricultural University participated in this work. The research has been funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Science and Technology Basic Resources Survey Project and the National Forage Industry Technology System. (Source: China Science Daily, Zhang Qingdan, Ma Xiaoyu)

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