Plant epigenetics: from mechanisms to ecological relevance
Plant epigenetics has recently become a compelling research field. There is accumulating evidence that (heritable) phenotypic variation is not solely based on variation in coding DNA sequences, but that epigenetic marks can alter gene expression, often under environmental or developmental influence. Branching off from molecular biology, laboratory-based epigenetic research in model organisms has thrived, and in recent years our mechanistic understanding of epigenetic processes has rapidly advanced. The most clear-cut examples of spontaneous heritable epialleles are found in plants. Epigenetic response mechanisms may be particularly crucial for the survival of plants within dynamic environments, as they cannot respond behaviourally or migrate immediately. Moreover, when we consider the duplicated genomic landscape of angiosperms, epigenetic effects could play a major role in their gene regulation. Indeed, by activating mobile elements and silencing redundant genes, epigenetic effects constitute an effective and flexible mechanism for stabilizing cellular processes immediately after genome doubling, a phenomenon of global importance in angiosperm evolution and diversification. However, epigenetic diversity remains a component of natural biodiversity about which little is known. Despite the potentially fundamental impact of epigenetic effects on ecologically-relevant processes, the study of these effects is not yet well established in ecological research. For an efficient integration of epigenetics in ecological and biodiversity research, an interdisciplinary and continuous flux of information is necessary, together with close cooperation between related disciplines. To this end, this symposium focuses on interdisciplinary discussion and aims to foster cooperation among research groups.
Twenty-five leading scientists will speak at the symposium. We hope that this will stimulate focused discussion and the exchange of ideas at what will be a relatively small (around 120 delegates) and informal meeting. There will be poster sessions, selected talks, tour and symposium dinner.