Genome-wide methylome stability and parental effects in the worldwide distributed Lombardy poplar

An Vanden Broeck, Tim Meese, Pieter Verschelde, Karen Cox, Berthold Heinze, Dieter Deforce, Filip Van Nieuwerburgh

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Despite the increasing number of epigenomic studies in plants, little is known about the forces that shape the methylome in long-lived woody perennials. The Lombardy poplar offers an ideal opportunity to investigate the impact of the individual environmental history of trees on the methylome.

We present the results of three interconnected experiments on Lombardy poplar. In the first experiment, we investigated methylome variability during a growing season and across vegetatively reproduced generations. We found that ramets collected over Europe and raised in common conditions have stable methylomes in symmetrical CG-contexts. In contrast, seasonal dynamics occurred in methylation patterns in CHH context. In the second experiment, we investigated whether methylome patterns of plants grown in a non-parental environment correlate with the parental climate. We did not observe a biological relevant pattern that significantly correlates with the parental climate. Finally, we investigated whether the parental environment has persistent carry-over effects on the vegetative offspring’s phenotype. We combined new bud set observations of three consecutive growing seasons with former published bud set data. Using a linear mixed effects analysis, we found a statistically significant but weak short-term, parental carry-over effect on the timing of bud set. However, this effect was negligible compared to the direct effects of the offspring environment.

Genome-wide cytosine methylation patterns in symmetrical CG-context are stable in Lombardy poplar and appear to be mainly the result of random processes. In this widespread poplar clone, methylation patterns in CG-context can be used as biomarkers to infer a common ancestor and thus to investigate the recent environmental history of a specific Lombardy poplar. The Lombardy poplar shows high phenotypic plasticity in a novel environment which enabled this clonal tree to adapt and survive all over the temperate regions of the world.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5-Feb-2024

Thematic List 2020

  • Forest

Thematic list

  • Climate

EWI Biomedical sciences

  • B004-botany

Taxonomic list

  • poplar (Populus spp.)


  • conservation goals


  • genetic technologies
  • epigenetics
  • whole epigenome sequencing

Free keywords

  • epigenetics
  • whole epigenome sequencing
  • Lombardy poplar

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