Plants regenerated from tissue culture often display somaclonal variation, that is, somatic and often meiotically heritable phenotypic variation that can result from both genetic and epigenetic modifications. To better understand the molecular basis of somaclonal variation, we have characterized four unique tissue culture-derived epialleles of the pericarp color1 (p1) gene of maize (Zea mays L.). The progenitor p1 allele, P1-wr, is composed of multiple head-to-tail tandemly arranged copies of the complete gene unit and specifies brick-red phlobaphene pigmentation in the cob glumes. The novel epialleles identified in progeny plants regenerated from tissue culture showed partial to complete loss of p1 function indicated by pink or colorless cob glumes. Loss of pigmentation was correlated with nearly complete loss of p1 steady-state transcripts. DNA gel-blot analysis and genomic bisulfite sequencing showed that silencing of the epialleles was associated with hypermethylation of a region in the second intron of P1-wr. Presence of Unstable factor for orange1 (Ufo1), an unlinked epigenetic modifier of p1, restored the cob glume pigmentation in the silenced alleles, and such reactivation was accompanied by hypomethylation of the p1 sequence. This observation confirmed that silencing of the epialleles is indeed due to epigenetic modifications and that the p1 epialleles were capable of functioning in the presence of the correct transacting factors. While the low-copy regions of the genome generally undergo hypomethylation during tissue culture, our study shows that the tandemly repeated genes are also prone to hypermethylation and epigenetic silencing.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes