Journal Article

Epigenetic variation in plant responses to defence hormones

Vít Latzel, Yuanye Zhang, Kim Karlsson Moritz, Markus Fischer and Oliver Bossdorf

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 110, issue 7, pages 1423-1428
Published in print November 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online April 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Epigenetic variation in plant responses to defence hormones

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

There is currently much speculation about the role of epigenetic variation as a determinant of heritable variation in ecologically important plant traits. However, we still know very little about the phenotypic consequences of epigenetic variation, in particular with regard to more complex traits related to biotic interactions.


Here, a test was carried out to determine whether variation in DNA methylation alone can cause heritable variation in plant growth responses to jasmonic acid and salicylic acid, two key hormones involved in induction of plant defences against herbivores and pathogens. In order to be able to ascribe phenotypic differences to epigenetic variation, the hormone responses were studied of epigenetic recombinant inbred lines (epiRILs) of Arabidopsis thaliana – lines that are highly variable at the level of DNA methylation but nearly identical at the level of DNA sequence.

Key Results

Significant heritable variation was found among epiRILs both in the means of phenotypic traits, including growth rate, and in the degree to which these responded to treatment with jasmonic acid and salicylic acid. Moreover, there was a positive epigenetic correlation between the responses of different epiRILs to the two hormones, suggesting that plant responses to herbivore and pathogen attack may have a similar molecular epigenetic basis.


This study demonstrates that epigenetic variation alone can cause heritable variation in, and thus potentially microevolution of, plant responses to defence hormones. This suggests that part of the variation of plant defences observed in natural populations may be due to underlying epigenetic, rather than entirely genetic, variation.

Keywords: Arabidopsis thaliana; DNA methylation; epigenetic recombinant inbred line; epiRIL; growth rate; induced defence; jasmonic acid; salicylic acid

Journal Article.  3852 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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