This proposal, entitled “Acquired Environmental Epigenetics Advances: from Arabidopsis to maize” (acronym: AENEAS), aims to assess the impact of environmental conditions on epigenetic states in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and then transfer knowledge to maize (Zea mays): an important European crop. Advances in understanding the detailed mechanisms of epialleles formation in response to environmental cues and their heritable maintenance in a model plant such as Arabidopsis will be the starting objective of the AENEAS proposal. To this end, we will focus on three epigenetic regulatory pathways, which have been well characterized for their interaction with environmental signals in mediating changes into the epigenome. They are: the autonomous, the small RNA and the CpG methylation pathways. The outcome of this research activity will be a road map for plant environmental epigenetics, necessary for further progress of the basic research in this area and for the transfer of the knowledge to crop plants. Concomitantly, the constitution of an “Environmental Epigenetics platform” for maize, will start with the development of tools indispensable for the shift of epigenetic research from Arabidopsis to maize. This will be achieved by the functional characterization of maize mutants for epi-regulators belonging to the three pathways studied in Arabidopsis. The tools will comprise: maize epi-regulator mutants, their targets, and information about their interaction with environmental cues for epialleles formation and inheritance throughout generations. It is our opinion that the deliverables from AENEAS will be the “progenitors” for the next-generation of breeding programs, based on the exploitation of the environmental-induced epigenetics variability. In addition, we will conduct a comparative genomics analysis of data arising from the project to generate comparative models for environmental epigenomics in two evolutionary distinct species such as Arabidopsis and maize.
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