Transposable elements are DNA sequences that have the potential to move around a genome. Since a transposable element jumping into an essential gene is lethal, plants immobilise transposable elements by adding chemical marks (epigenetic modifications) to DNA that encodes the transposable elements. Sections of DNA with types of epigenetic modification associated with transposable elements get compacted, which helps to stop the transposable elements moving.
Epigenetic modifications also function in regulation of the expression of some genes such as in the cellular memory of biotic and abiotic stress. Under severe stress, it may be advantageous for a plant to allow more rapid changes to its genome, in the hope that some of its progeny will be better adapted to high levels of a given stress. We are trying to understand the impact of long-term biotic stress on genome evolution and plant adaptation though changes in epigenetic modifications and transposable element movement.
Projects in the lab currently focus on:
- Disease resistance in plants that have undergone long-term biotic stress (Ellie Vinnicombe)