RP08: Natural DNA methylation variation in clonal and outcrossing European Populus nigra populations

  • PhD Supervisor(s): Lars Opgenoorth & Katrin Heer
  • Host Institution: Philipps-Universit├Ąt Marburg, Marburg, Germany
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Fixed start date: 1 April 2018
  • Planned secondment(s): EcSeq Bioinformatics Leipzig (GE) (https://www.ecseq.com/) for WGBS data analysis, NIOO-KNAW Wageningen (NL) for learning methylation screening library preparation.

Trees as long-lived and sessile organisms are particularly challenged by climate change. Thus epigenetic changes via priming either during embryogenesis or at a later life stage might be particularly relevant for long-lived plant species, independent of whether these changes are heritable (generative/adaptation) or act during the lifetime (somatic/acclimation) only. Thus, studying epigenetic processes in trees might crucially contribute to our understanding of the strategy of these long-lived organisms for coping with environmental change and might help explain their ecological and evolutionary success. In this project, DNA methylation and TE variants will be screened in natural Populus nigra populations and Populus nigra italica clones that have been growing in natural environments along European-scale geographic and climatological gradients. Specifically we will characterize epigenetic population structure, associate methylation and TE variants with relevant ecological and climatic variables, and assess the contribution to epigenetic population structure of environmental induction relative to stably inherited methylation variation. DNA methylation and TE screening tools will include whole genome bisulfite sequencing, and targeted bisulfite sequencing. The project will interact closely with bioinformatics groups as well as stress experimental groups in the EpiDiverse network.

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