Paramutation is a fascinating phenomenon in which directed allelic interactions result in heritable changes in the state of an allele. Paramutation has been carefully characterized at a handful of loci but the prevalence of paramutable/paramutagenic alleles is not well characterized within genomes or populations. In order to consider the role of paramutation in evolutionary processes and plant breeding, we focused on several questions. First, what causes certain alleles to become subject to paramutation? While paramutation clearly involves epigenetic regulation it is also true that only certain alleles defined by genetic sequences are able to participate in paramutation. Second, what is the prevalence of paramutation? There are only a handful of well-documented examples of paramutation. However, there is growing evidence that many loci may undergo changes in chromatin state or expression that are similar to changes observed as a result of paramutation. Third, how will paramutation events be inherited in natural or artificial populations? Many factors, including stability of epigenetic state, mating style and ploidy, may influence the prevalence of paramutation states within populations. Developing a clear understanding of the mechanisms and frequency of paramutation in crop plant genomes will facilitate new opportunities in genetic manipulation, and will also enhance plant breeding programs and our understanding of genome evolution.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to N.M.S. ( DBI-1237931 ) and a grant from National Science Foundation to K.M.M. ( MCB-0952579 ).
- Population genetics