Abstract - There exists extensive natural epigenetic and cryptic variation in plant genomes some of which is linked to heritable phenotypic variation. Accessing this source of variation to improve plant traits is cumbersome as it often relies on the identification and incorporation of rare events into breeding programs. We describe a novel methodology termed “epimutagenesis” to rapidly generate phenotypic variation by randomly demethylating the genome of Arabidopsis thaliana via transgenic expression of a DNA demethylase. Not only does this system lead to widespread loss of DNA methylation, but it also leads to the production of heritable phenotypic variation. Application of epimutagenesis to other plant species will lead to expression of alleles typically silenced by DNA methylation, uncovering previously hidden cryptic alleles.
Biography - Bob Schmitz earned his B.Sc. in Molecular & Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona and his Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Postdoctoral training was performed at the Salk Institute. In 2013, Bob joined the Genetics Department at the University of Georgia where his lab is studying how phenotypic plasticity and diversity are driven by natural and induced epigenetic variation. His lab uses a combination of molecular genetics and epigenomic approaches to understand gene regulation for the purposes of improving crop performance.