Transgenerational Epigenetic Instability Is a Source of Novel Methylation Variants

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Science  15 Sep 2011:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1212959


Epigenetic information, which may affect an organism's phenotype, can be stored and stably inherited in the form of cytosine DNA methylation. Changes in DNA methylation can produce meiotically stable epialleles that affect transcription and morphology, but the rates of spontaneous gain or loss of DNA methylation are unknown. We examined spontaneously occurring variation in DNA methylation in Arabidopsis thaliana plants propagated by single-seed descent for 30 generations. 114,287 CG single methylation polymorphisms (SMPs) and 2485 CG differentially methylated regions (DMRs) were identified, both of which show patterns of divergence compared to the ancestral state. Thus, transgenerational epigenetic variation in DNA methylation may generate new allelic states that alter transcription, providing a mechanism for phenotypic diversity in the absence of genetic mutation.