7 Mind Bending Facts About Plant Epigenetics

Plant Epigenetics, The Epigenetics of Plants

Walking barefoot through the grass or hiking through the woods can invoke a feeling of calm, and a peaceful happiness. It can trigger nostalgic memories, and make us feel connected to nature, and the various life forms around us. Needless to say, being in close proximity to plant life makes us feel interlinked with the world around us. The question then arises of if these organisms are capable of reciprocating the feeling, do they know we are there and if so, how does the environment impact their gene expression?

This article will seek to explore 7 mind-bending facts about plant epigenetics, scientific phenomenon that suggest that plants are not as static as they appear to be.

1. The plant epigenome is surprisingly similar to the mammalian epigenome

Plant epigenomes are actually very similar to mammalian epigenomes in that they both regulate gene expression by modifying histones and by methylation of DNA. However, they differ from mammals in that plants are much more sensitive to their environments, and are much more prone to undergo epigenetic modifications because of their surroundings. They also differ in that in plants, methylation is mostly restricted to non-coding regions, while in mammals it also occurs in the coding regions of DNA [1].

2. Studying plant epigenetics could lead to higher yield, higher quality crops

One of the most significant ways that studying plant epigenetic can potentially be very beneficial is through crop improvement. Scientists have been able to study what environmental stressors cause epigenetic modifications that result in better crop yields, and higher quality fruits and vegetables. Theoretically, we could use this knowledge to improve our crop yield and quality everywhere [1].

3. Plants have an epigenetic memory that allows them to remember environmental stress

Another interesting facet that has arisen from plant epigenetics is that plants have the ability to remember stressors that they encounter in the environment, and are thus better equipped to survive the next time they come across that stressor. This process is known as “priming” and can be seen in events such as droughts, or periods of heavy heat. Plants that have experienced such phenomena as a drought are much better equipped to handle it again in the future because of the epigenetic memory they have acquired from surviving a previous drought [1].

4. Plants can defend themselves from other plants by releasing epigenetic chemicals into the soil

Even more fascinating is the fact that plants can defend themselves from other nearby plants via epigenetic mechanisms. The way they do this is by releasing chemicals into the soil that will later be converted in histone deacetylase inhibitors. These inhibitors are then uptaken by nearby “enemy” plants, where they will disrupt their epigenetic profiles, thus disrupting normal growth and function [1].

5. Plants are better than animals at transmitting epigenetic information to their children

The DNA methylation marks in plants are transmitted to their offspring in a manner that has been described as “much more direct than in animals.” This is because plants do not undergo the genome-wide wave of demethylation in germ cells that animals do. The results of this are that the offspring of plants will be epigenetically more similar to their parents than the offspring of animals [2].

6. Epigenetic memory can regulate and control flowering time

Appropriate regulation of flowering time is essential for the reproductive success of a plant and the viability of its offspring. Plants must rely on the ability to recognize a long period of cold temperature in order to properly flower and reproduce. Though the precise epigenetic mechanism of how plants remember this period of cold is debated, it is undoubtable that epigenetic enzymes control flowering time through modifications such as methylation and acetylation of DNA and Histones [3].

7. Plants, like animals, rely on hormones to regulate gene expression

Similar to animals, plants use a complex system of hormone signals and receptors in order to allow cells within the organism to talk to one another. Plants have developed an extremely complex system of listening to signals from neighboring cells, and integrating them into their environment. The ability of the plant to understand and integrate these neighboring signals can be very dependent on the epigenetic state or memory of the cell. Research in this field is constantly expanding and we are always learning new things about this very complex process [3].



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    By: Nicholas Morano

    Nicholas Morano received his B.S. in biochemistry from Binghamton University, where he worked as an undergraduate researcher studying the genetics of drosophila melanogaster. He is currently working on his PhD. in biochemistry at Albert Einstein’s College of Medicine, where he is studying nucleic acids for the purpose of developing new technologies and new therapeutics.

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  • Robin

    This is jammed packed with a ton of cool facts that I didn’t even learn in school. Thanks for the awesome content!

  • Sandra Copeland

    This is really interesting thank you for sharing Love this !1~ great content !!~

  • Shawne Perryman

    Wow, can you say jammed packed with info. I truly learn some really awesome things in today’s post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tara Woodruff

    This blows my mind! I have always said that Plants could make their own adjustments to their surroundings Naturally FAR better than human manipulation. I sure worry for vegans though, because these facts you discuss here bring to light about plant communication. I Wonder if The plants pain was communicated to us during harvesting would alter the vegans desire to eat plant food based on ethical standards. Thank you for this. I Love to learn.

  • rorysingh

    I have heard of tree roots choking other tree roots because of the ‘lack’ of water underneath the ‘rain forest’. There is a lot of moisture under the rain forest but not enough for all of the trees. This is a very good post but I am not surprised of the ‘intelligence’ of plants…smarter than most humans for sure! Hopefully what happened in the Mark Wahlberg movie the Happening doesn’t happen to us.

  • [ Smiles ] Wow! You certainly know a whole lot about plants!

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

  • Wow Apart from the techno lingo I have learned a ton about plant dynamics. My question is how does grass relate to us walking all over it as a means of “Grounding” and feeling connected. Sitting on it in the park, our dogs defecating on it…honestly I just want to learn coz this is truly fascinating stuff 🙂 Wow. And we eat them, so do they feel pain when we do? So insightful!

  • Kenny Santos

    This is fascinating. There is so much that I don’t know about plants.

  • Bruce Markus

    Good article, but there is much more secrets on plants. They cannot only defend themselves, they also communicate, self-recognice and warn of danger. Or they perform arithmetic divisions to prevent starvation at night!! Or they feel pain!

    Maybe we should start rethink 😉