Plants use their epigenetic memory to adapt to climate change – ScienceDaily

Plants use their epigenetic memory to adapt to climate change – ScienceDaily

Animals can adapt quickly to survive adverse environmental conditions. There is growing evidence that plants can too. Publication of work in a journal Trends in Plant Science On November 17, it describes how plants quickly adapt to the harmful effects of climate change and how these adaptations are passed on to their offspring.

“One day I thought about how a person’s lifestyle and experience can affect his or her gametes by passing on the molecular markers of their life to their children,” says Federico Martinelli, a plant geneticist at the University of Florence. “I immediately thought that even more epigenetic marks must be passed on in plants, since plants are sessile organisms that are subjected to much more environmental stress than animals during their lifetime.”

Plants face more environmental stressors than ever. For example, climate change is making winters shorter and less severe in many locations, and plants are responding. “Many plants need a minimum period of cold to set their ecological clock to define flowering time,” says Martinelli. “As cold seasons shorten, plants have adapted to require a shorter period of cold to delay flowering. These mechanisms allow plants to avoid flowering during periods when they have less chance of reproduction.”

Since plants do not have neural networks, their memory is entirely based on cellular, molecular and biochemical networks. These networks make up what researchers call somatic memory. “These mechanisms allow plants to recognize the occurrence of an antecedent environmental condition and to respond more quickly in the presence of the same consequent condition,” says Martinelli.

These somatic memories can then be passed on to plant offspring via epigenetics. “We highlighted key genes, proteins and small oligonucleotides, which previous studies have shown play a key role in the memory of abiotic stresses such as drought, salinity, cold, heat, heavy metals and pathogen attacks,” says Martinelli. “In this peer-reviewed opinion, we provide several examples that demonstrate the existence of molecular mechanisms that modulate plant memory to environmental stresses and influence progeny adaptation to those stresses.”

Moving forward, Martinelli and his colleagues hope to understand even more about the genes that are passed on. “We are particularly interested in decoding the epigenetic alphabet that underlies all environmentally induced modifications of genetic material, without changes in the DNA sequence,” he says. “This is especially important when we consider the rapid climate change we are seeing today, to which every living organism, including plants, needs to adapt quickly in order to survive.”

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Materials provided Cell Press. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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