Connor Tumelty Rose Hills
Engineering Novel Epialleles via Directed DNA Methylation in Plants
Epigenetic information refers to chemical modifications to DNA and histones that can be inherited independently of the genetic sequence of a gene. These modifications control the expression of the gene and can alter the organism’s phenotype. In nature, a number of epialleles (alleles with identical sequences yet different epigenetic states) have been identified and often contribute to vast phenotypic diversity among a population of organisms. It is currently poorly understood whether epialleles can be engineered within plant systems. If possible, this could expand the toolbox available to plant breeders and engineers seeking to specify the phenotypes in their crops. I propose to perform an important proof-of-concept experiment to demonstrate the feasibility of engineering epialleles, using a visually obvious marker gene in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. I seek to understand if DNA methylation patterns can be engineered and if this epigenetic mark is stably inherited over multiple generations once it has been established.