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First Step Taken Toward Epigenetically Modified Cotton

Summary posted by Meridian on 6/1/2017

Source: The University of Texas at Austin (31 May 2017)

Author(s): n/a

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, United States, are looking to epigenetics as a way to breed heartier and more productive cotton. Epigenetics is the science of how processes outside a living thing’s DNA determine whether, when and how much certain genes are expressed. Epigenetics could open up an entirely new way to breed plants and animals, allowing scientists to create new varieties without altering genes. In this study, the team identified more than 500 genes that are epigenetically modified between wild cotton varieties and domesticated cotton. The information could help breeders select for the kinds of traits they would want to alter, such as fiber yield, or resistance to drought, heat or pests. “This understanding will allow us to supplement genetic breeding with epigenetic breeding,” says Z. Jeffrey Chen, a professor of Plant Molecular Genetics in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. “Since we know now how epigenetic changes affect flowering and stress responses, you could reactivate stress-responsive genes in domesticated cotton.” Chen and his colleagues this week published, in the journal Genome Biology, a report that they produced a “methylome” - or, a list of genes and genetic elements that have been switched on and off through DNA methylation, which is a natural process. “Knowing how the methylome changed during evolution and domestication will help bring this technology one step closer to reality,” added Chen. Modern breeders, he said, could modify gene methylation with chemicals or through modified gene-editing techniques, such as CRISPR/Cas9.

The original article may still be available at https://news.utexas.edu/2017/05/31/first-step-taken-toward-epigenetically-modified-cotton

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