Induced and Constitutive DNA Methylation in a Salinity-Tolerant Wheat Introgression Line

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Cytosine methylation is a well recognized epigenetic mark. Here, the methylation status of a salinity-tolerant wheat cultivar (cv. SR3, derived from a somatic hybridization event) and its progenitor parent (cv. JN177) was explored both globally and within a set of 24 genes responsive to salinity stress. A further comparison was made between DNA extracted from plants grown under control conditions and when challenged by salinity stress. The SR3 and JN177 genomes differed with respect to their global methylation level, and methylation levels were reduced by exposure to salinity stress. We found the genetic stress- (triggered by a combination of different genomes in somatic hybridization) induced methylation pattern of 13 loci in non-stressed SR3; the same 13 loci were found to undergo methylation in salinity-stressed JN177. For the salinity-responsive genes, SR3 and JN177 also showed different methylation modifications. C methylation polymorphisms induced by salinity stress were present in both the promoter and coding regions of some of the 24 selected genes, but only the former were associated with changes in transcript abundance. The expression of both TaFLS1 (encoding a flavonol synthase) and TaWRSI5 (encoding a Bowman–Birk-type protease inhibitor), which showed both a different expression and a different DNA methylation level between SR3 and JN177, enhanced the salinity tolerance of Arabidopsis thaliana. C methylation changes appear to be a common component of the plant response to stress, and methylation changes triggered by somatic hybridization may contribute to the superior salinity tolerance of SR3.

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