Epigenetics refers to processes capable of inducing changes in genetic activity without altering the underlying DNA sequence. DNA methylation is one of the most studied mechanisms of epigenetic regulation and refers to the addition of a methyl group to cytosine bases. DNA methylation is presumed to be evolutionarily ancient, and, while the mark itself is prevalent across taxa, the landscape of methylation patterning is incredibly diverse. Recent research characterizing DNA methylation in certain invertebrates is providing evidence that in some species the localized absence of DNA methylation could directly contribute to phenotypic plasticity by increasing the number of transcriptional opportunities. Using the Pacific oyster as a model system, this research investigates the theory that the DNA methylation system provides a mechanism for increased adaptive potential in invertebrate species subjected to highly dynamic environmental conditions. A combination of high-throughput sequencing and microarray approaches are used to investigate genome-wide methylation patterns and assess how these patterns influence gene expression in an ecologically and economically important marine invertebrate. Multiple developmental stages will be targeted as well as individuals subjected to acute environmental stress. The experimental design allows for a comprehensive characterization of mechanisms associated with DNA methylation, including testing the theory that genes lacking germline methylation will possess a greater incidence of alternative transcripts, sequence variation, and transient methylation.
This project will contribute to the training and education of graduate and undergraduate students and will be integrated into the formal classroom setting. Research activities will be made available to the public and other scientists through open access electronic lab notebooks and as part of hands-on education and outreach activities. These outreach activities will increase scientific literacy and appreciation of molecular processes and their relationship to our environment. Furthermore, this project examines how epigenetics influences the ability of a species to adapt to environmental change. Thus, this research could considerably impact predictions of ecosystem level responses to environmental change and will contribute in the long-term to the conservation of natural resources.
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This research is funded by: