Joerg Hagmann, Claude Becker, Jonas Müller, Oliver Stegle, Rhonda C Meyer, Korbinian Schneeberger, Joffrey Fitz, Thomas Altmann, Joy Bergelson, Karsten Borgwardt, Detlef Weigel
There has been much excitement about the possibility that exposure to specific environments can induce an ecological memory in the form of whole-sale, genome-wide epigenetic changes that are maintained over many generations. In the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, numerous heritable DNA methylation differences have been identified in greenhouse-grown isogenic lines, but it remains unknown how natural, highly variable environments affect the rate and spectrum of such changes. Here we present detailed methylome analyses in a geographically dispersed A. thaliana population that constitutes a collection of near-isogenic lines, diverged for at least a century from a common ancestor. We observed little DNA methylation divergence whole-genome wide. Nonetheless, methylome variation largely reflected genetic distance, and was in many aspects similar to that of lines raised in uniform conditions. Thus, even when plants are grown in varying and diverse natural sites, genome-wide epigenetic variation accumulates in a clock-like manner, and epigenetic divergence thus parallels the pattern of genome-wide DNA sequence divergence.