Epigenetics

Goettel, W, Messing J.  2012.  Paramutagenicity of a p1 epiallele in maize. Theoretical and Applied Genetics. (Epub Sep 18) AbstractWebsite
Complex silencing mechanisms in plants and other kingdoms target transposons, repeat sequences, invasive viral nucleic acids and transgenes, but also endogenous genes and genes involved in paramutation. Paramutation occurs in a heterozygote when a transcriptionally active allele heritably adopts the epigenetic state of a transcriptionally and/or post-transcriptionally repressed allele. P1-rr and its silenced epiallele P1-pr, which encode a Myb-like transcription factor mediating pigmentation in floral organs of Zea mays, differ in their cytosine methylation pattern and chromatin structure at a complex enhancer site. Here, we tested whether P1-pr is able to heritably silence its transcriptionally active P1-rr allele in a heterozygote and whether DNA methylation is associated with the establishment and maintenance of P1-rr silencing. We found that P1-pr participates in paramutation as the repressing allele and P1-rr as the sensitive allele. Silencing of P1-rr is highly variable compared to the inducing P1-pr resulting in a wide range of gene expression. Whereas cytosine methylation at P1-rr is negatively correlated with transcription and pigment levels after segregation of P1-pr, methylation lags behind the establishment of the repressed p1 gene expression. We propose a model in which P1-pr paramutation is triggered by changing epigenetic states of transposons immediately adjacent to a P1-rr enhancer sequence. Considering the vast amount of transposable elements in the maize genome close to regulatory elements of genes, numerous loci could undergo paramutation-induced allele silencing, which could also have a significant impact on breeding agronomically important traits.
Wu, Y, Goettel W, Messing J.  2009.  Non-Mendelian regulation and allelic variation of methionine-rich delta-zein genes in maize. Theor Appl Genet. AbstractWebsite
Sufficient methionine levels in the seed are critical for the supply of a balanced diet for feed and food. Currently, animal feed is supplemented with chemically synthesized methionine, which could be completely replaced with naturally synthesized methionine. However, insufficient levels of methionine are due to alleles of two genes in the maize genome that are expressed during seed development, which have a high percentage of methionine codons, ranging from 23 to 28%, while free methionine is very low. The two genes, dzs10 and dzs18, belong to the prolamin gene family that arose during the evolution of the grasses and were duplicated during a whole genome duplication event. We have found several dzs10 and dzs18 null alleles caused either by transposon insertion or frame shift mutations. Maize seeds with null mutations of both genes have a normal phenotype in contrast to other prolamin genes, explaining the accumulation of methionine deficiency in normal breeding efforts. Moreover, the trans-regulation of these genes deviates from Mendelian inheritance. One allele of the regulatory locus dzr1 is inherited in a parent-of-origin fashion, while another allele appears to prevent Mendelian segregation of the high-methionine phenotype in backcrosses.
Messing, J, Grossniklaus U.  1999.  Genomic imprinting in plants. Results and problems in cell differentiation. 25:23-40.Website
Lund, G, Prem Das O, Messing J.  1995.  Tissue-specific DNase I-sensitive sites of the maize P gene and their changes upon epimutation. The Plant Journal. 7:797-807.Website
Lund, G, Messing J, Viotti A.  1995.  Endosperm-specific demethylation and activation of specific alleles of alpha-tubulin genes of Zea mays L. Molecular & general genetics : MGG. 246:716-22. AbstractWebsite
We have investigated the methylation status of the alpha-tubulin genes, and the degree of accumulation of their mRNAs in endosperm, embryo and seedling tissues of Zea mays L. We have found that many of the alpha-tubulin genes are differentially demethylated in the endosperm relative to the embryo and seedling. However, only for tub alpha 2 and tub alpha 4 could a correlation between DNA demethylation and increased RNA accumulation be detected. By analyzing the inbred lines W64A and A69Y and their reciprocal crosses, we have also identified in the endosperm two alpha-tubulin genes, tub alpha 3 and tub alpha 4, that are differentially demethylated if transmitted by the maternal germline, but that remain hypermethylated when transmitted by the paternal germline.
Das, OP, Messing J.  1994.  Variegated phenotype and developmental methylation changes of a maize allele originating from epimutation. Genetics. 136:1121-41. AbstractWebsite
Two instances of genetic transmission of spontaneous epimutation of the maize P-rr gene were identified. Transmission gave rise to two similar, moderately stable alleles, designated P-pr-1 and P-pr-2, that exhibited Mendelian behavior. Both isolates of P-pr conditioned a variable and variegated phenotype, unlike the uniform pigmentation conditioned by P-rr. Extensive genomic analysis failed to reveal insertions, deletions or restriction site polymorphisms between the new allele and its progenitor. However, methylation of the P gene was increased in P-pr relative to P-rr, and was greatly reduced (though not lost) in a revertant to uniform pigmentation. Variability in pigmentation conditioned by P-pr correlated with variability in transcript levels of the P gene, and both correlated inversely with variability in its methylation. Part of the variability in methylation could be accounted for by a developmental decrease in methylation in all tissues of plants carrying P-pr. We hypothesize that the variegated phenotype results from a general epigenetic pathway which causes a progressive decrease in methylation and increase in expression potential of the P gene as a function of cell divisions in each meristem of the plant. This renders all tissues chimeric for a functional gene; chimerism is visualized as variegation only in pericarp due to the tissue specificity of P gene expression. Therefore, this allele that originates from epimutation may exemplify an epigenetic mechanism for variegation in maize.
Chaudhuri, S, Messing J.  1994.  Allele-specific parental imprinting of dzr1, a posttranscriptional regulator of zein accumulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 91:4867-71. AbstractWebsite
Parental imprinting describes the phenomenon of unequivalent gene function based on transmission from the female or male parent. We have discovered parental imprinting of an allele of the dzr1 locus that posttranscriptionally regulates the accumulation of 10-kDa zein in the maize endosperm. The imprinted allele of MO17 inbred origin, dzr1 + MO17, conditions low accumulation of the 10-kDa zein and is dominant when transmitted through the female but recessive when transmitted through the male. Analyzing endosperms with equal parental contributions of dzr1 + MO17 ruled out the possibility that the unequivalent phenotype of dzr1 + MO17 was due to parental dosage imbalance in the triploid endosperm. Second-generation studies show that the dominant or recessive phenotype of dzr1 + MO17 is determined at every generation based on immediate parental origin with no grandparental effect.
Messing, J, Fisher H.  1991.  Maternal effect on high methionine levels in hybrid corn. Journal of biotechnology. 21:229-237.Website
Miclaus, M, Xu JH, Messing J.  2011.  Differential gene expression and epiregulation of alpha zein gene copies in maize haplotypes. PLoS Genet. 7:e1002131. AbstractWebsite
Multigenic traits are very common in plants and cause diversity. Nutritional quality is such a trait, and one of its factors is the composition and relative expression of storage protein genes. In maize, they represent a medium-size gene family distributed over several chromosomes and unlinked locations. Two inbreds, B73 and BSSS53, both from the Iowa Stiff Stock Synthetic collection, have been selected to analyze allelic and non-allelic variability in these regions that span between 80-500 kb of chromosomal DNA. Genes were copied to unlinked sites before and after allotetraploidization of maize, but before transposition enlarged intergenic regions in a haplotype-specific manner. Once genes are copied, expression of donor genes is reduced relative to new copies. Epigenetic regulation seems to contribute to silencing older copies, because some of them can be reactivated when endosperm is maintained as cultured cells, indicating that copy number variation might contribute to a reserve of gene copies. Bisulfite sequencing of the promoter region also shows different methylation patterns among gene clusters as well as differences between tissues, suggesting a possible position effect on regulatory mechanisms as a result of inserting copies at unlinked locations. The observations offer a potential paradigm for how different gene families evolve and the impact this has on their expression and regulation of their members.