DNA methylation is a major epigenetic marking mechanism regulating various biological functions in mammals and plant. The crucial role of DNA methylation has been observed in cellular differentiation, embryogenesis, genomic imprinting and X-chromosome inactivation. Furthermore, DNA methylation takes part in disease susceptibility, responses to environmental stimuli and the biodiversity of natural populations. In plant, different types of environmental stress have demonstrated the ability to alter the archetype of DNA methylation through the genome, change gene expression and confer a mechanism of adaptation. DNA methylation dynamics are regulated by three processes de novo DNA methylation, methylation maintenance and DNA demethylation. These processes have their similarities and differences between mammals and plants. Furthermore, the dysregulation of DNA methylation dynamics represents one of the primary molecular mechanisms of developing diseases in mammals. This review discusses the regulation and dysregulation of DNA methylation in plants and mammals. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.