Plant research goes EPIC

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Published on: October 25, 2013
A DNA molecule that is methylated on both strands on the center cytosine. DNA methylation plays an important role for epigenetic gene regulation in development

Early last week I attended the EPIC (Epigenomics of Plants International Consortium) one day symposium on Mapping the Epigenomes of Plants and Animals at the John Innes Centre. Epigenomics is an exciting branch of biology, with active, cutting-edge research ongoing in plants, animals and microbes alike.

The EPIC Planning Committee aim to crack and control the ‘second code’ of biology (they overview the field and their plans in a 2012 open access Plant Cell paper). A major step toward this ambitious goal is the CoGe Epigenomics Browser, a web-based comparative genomics system that provides access to 20,000 genomes from 15,000 organisms, and users can take advantage of over 30 tools for the analysis, comparison, and visualisation of genomic data from the scale of whole genomes to individual nucleotides. The creators of CoGe, Eric Lyons and Brian Gregory, have worked with iPlant to build a secure and versatile user-data management system, and like iPlant CoGe has a Wiki with extensive tutorials and support pages.

The biggest session at the Symposium was on DNA methylation. Gavin Kelsey, Mary Gehring and Rob Martienssen, who is speaking at GARNet 2014, spoke about the mechanisms of parental imprinting and their impact, which can continue for generations – and I have to say, at this point I wondered how many lab conflicts and frustration-inducing experimental problems are caused by our current lack of understanding about epigenomic effects!

Julie Ahringer and Doris Wagner spoke about their research digging down into the physical properties of epigenomic features and the mechanisms of chromatin regulation. Oliver Stegle and Claude Becker are both working on understanding how genome, transcriptome, epigenome and environment interact to produce a phenotype. Xiaofeng Cao is applying this approach to controlling agricultural traits in rice.

There were a few non-plant science speakers, including Eric Miska who presented his research on piRNAs, which he has shown are vital for maintaining fertility over generations and are also involved in sperm production. Interestingly Blake Meyers has identified phasiRNAs in maize, small RNAs that are involved in sperm production and he suggested they may have convergently evolved to fulfil a similar role as piRNAs.

Image credit: Christoph Boch via Wikimedia Commons. “Details: The picture shows the crystal structure of a short DNA helix with sequence “accgcCGgcgcc”, which is methylated on both strands at the center cytosine.”

 

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