Research on poplar clones reveals insights into plant epigenetics

A team of researchers led by Sherosha Raj of the University of Toronto found that some clones of poplar trees behave differently to environmental stressors, shedding light on the study of epigenetic changes within genetically identical plants.

Raj and her team took two clones—grown hundreds of miles apart—from three different varieties of poplar trees, and grew the pairs in a controlled environment. They subjected the varieties to drought conditions to see if “a clone always behaves like a clone.” What the team found was surprising—one pair of clones did behave identically, but the other pairs did not. The team found epigenetic changes in the other pairs of clones, suggesting that clones can respond differently to a stimulus if their past experience has induced an epigenetic change in their genome.

The research provides insight on epigenetic modification, which can “influence the extent to which maternal and paternal copies are used.” Epigenetic modification provides “plasticity…in the genome, which creates flexibility for even clonal organisms.”

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