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In long-lived sessile organisms such as trees, phenotypic plasticity is an important requirement for successful persistence in changing or variable environments. Epigenetic mechanisms have the potential to mediate long-term plastic responses to environmental change. However, the importance of epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation as regulators of adaptive plasticity is not well known.
In my project, I will experimentally evaluate effects of biotic/abiotic stress exposure on DNA methylation, transposable element activity and gene expression in black poplar (Populus nigra), with the aim to:
(1) Identify genomic loci that show stress-induced epigenetic modification with functional consequences, and
(2) Evaluate the temporal stability of such loci, for example across growing seasons, with emphasis on understanding rust-poplar interactions.
Making use of clonally propagated trees that have grown in contrasting environments, we will also investigate to what extent the induced DNA methylation is influenced by the reduced genetic variation and environment background.