DNA methylatìon plays an essential role in regulating plant development: recent research has demonstrated that this epigenetic phenomenon plays an integral role in processes such as vernalisation, flowering and endosperm development. Even though the exploration of epigenetic phenomena has been intensively developed for the study of cancer and many human disease syndromes, only a few groups are studying these phenomena in plants, where they have major economic relevance, such as somaclonal variation or transcriptional gene silencing. Epigenetic regulation of gene expression is mediated by two processes: methylation of cytosine residues in DNA and chromatin structure. Dr Finnegan's group in CSIRO Australia is undoubtedly a world leader in this area, as it has a high international profile earned through many key contributions to plant epigenetic research over the last 10 years.
Dr Rival is the leader of a research group working on the molecular determinism of somadonal variation in tropical plants of economic importance, such as oil palm. The aim of the present OIF is to consolidate Dr Rival's expertise in the understanding and study of epigenetic mechanisms implants. Dr Rival's group has shown that the occurrence of floral variants in tissue culture derived oil palm is associated with DNA hypomethylation. The time is ripe to integrate the various strategies developed by Dr Finnegan's group to the study of epigenetic regulation of somadonal variation in oil palm.
The VARIOMETH fellowship will focus on the role of DNA methyl trans ferases on the determinism of somadonal variation and on the exploration of the relationship between DNA methylation and chromatin remodelling. Indeed, methylated DNA has been found to adopt a distinctive chromatin structure in the genome.
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