Improving the responsiveness, acclimation, and memory of plants to abiotic stress holds substantive potential for improving agriculture. An unresolved question is the involvement of chromatin marks in the memory of agriculturally relevant stresses. Such potential has spurred numerous investigations yielding both promising and conflicting results. Consequently, it remains unclear to what extent robust stress-induced DNA methylation variation can underpin stress memory. Using a slow-onset water deprivation treatment in Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana), we investigated the malleability of the DNA methylome to drought stress within a generation and under repeated drought stress over five successive generations. While drought-associated epialleles in the methylome were detected within a generation, they did not correlate with drought-responsive gene expression. Six traits were analyzed for transgenerational stress memory, and the descendants of drought-stressed lineages showed one case of memory in the form of increased seed dormancy, and that persisted one generation removed from stress. With respect to transgenerational drought stress, there were negligible conserved differentially methylated regions in drought-exposed lineages compared with unstressed lineages. Instead, the majority of observed variation was tied to stochastic or preexisting differences in the epigenome occurring at repetitive regions of the Arabidopsis genome. Furthermore, the experience of repeated drought stress was not observed to influence transgenerational epi-allele accumulation. Our findings demonstrate that, while transgenerational memory is observed in one of six traits examined, they are not associated with causative changes in the DNA methylome, which appears relatively impervious to drought stress.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
1This project was supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (CE140100008). D.R.G. and P.A.C. were supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRS10683 and GRS184) and Australian Postgraduate Awards. S.R. E. was funded by a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DE150101206). 2 Address correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.