Epigenetic inheritance, a source of nongenetic inheritance, occurs when epigenetic modifications are passed on through reproduction to the next generation.
Studying the sources and consequences of epigenetic inheritance is critical to understanding nongenetic inheritance, phenotype, and the adaptive potential of populations and species. This is particularly relevant in light of rapid environmental change, where epigenetic modifications are increasingly recognised as important mechanisms to respond to stress.
A recent review led by Plant & Food Research scientists, has found that footprints on top of the DNA sequence, acquired during the lifetime of an individual, are inherited across multiple generations in plants and animals. How a species reproduces: sexually or asexually, laying eggs like fish or giving birth like mammals, influences how often these changes are inherited.
Additionally, the review shows that events that occur during the lifetime of an individual – like exposure to a toxic substance, changes in nutrition or even variations in the ambient temperature or oxygen levels – can all can be recorded as footprints in most organisms and passed to the next generation. These epigenetic mechanisms can alter gene expression and allow species to respond rapidly to their environments, much faster than changes in DNA could achieve that, by modifying their phenotypes.
The study concludes that multi-generational persistence of epigenomic patterns is common in both plants and animals, but also highlights many knowledge gaps that remain to be filled. The study provides a framework to guide future research towards understanding the generational persistence and eco-evolutionary significance of epigenomics.
Anastasiadi, D., Venney, C. J., Bernatchez, L., & Wellenreuther, M. (2021). Epigenetic inheritance and reproductive mode in plants and animals. Trends in Ecology & Evolution https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2021.08.006
Source: Plant & Food Research