Epigenetics and Heterosis in Crop Plants

  • Peter Ryder
  • Peter C. McKeown
  • Antoine Fort
  • Charles SpillaneEmail author


Heterosis refers to improved or altered performance observed in F1 hybrid organisms when compared to their parents. Heterosis has revolutionized agriculture by improving key agronomic traits in crop plants. However, even after decades of research in this area a unifying molecular theory of heterosis remains somewhat elusive. For many years it has been observed that the dominant, overdominant and epistasis models have prevailed for explaining multigenic heterosis. The use of whole transcriptome, proteome, metabolome and epigenome profiling approaches can further generate and inform hypotheses regarding heterosis. This chapter reviews the models that have been used to explain heterosis. We also review the mechanistic basis of epigenetic pathways in plants and describe how they may also be considered in relation to understanding heterosis. There are a number of findings that support potential links between epigenetic regulation and heterosis in model and crop plants, including the potential for DNA methylation, histone modification and small RNAs to influence heterotic effects in F1 hybrids. Overall, we assess some opportunities and challenges for epigenetic research to advance the molecular understanding of heterosis.


Heterosis Epigenetics DNA methylation sRNA Transchromosomal methylation Hybrid vigor Parent-of-origin 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Ryder
    • 1
  • Peter C. McKeown
    • 1
  • Antoine Fort
    • 1
  • Charles Spillane
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC), School of Natural SciencesNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayIreland
  2. 2.Genetics and Biotechnology Lab, NUI GalwayGalwayIreland

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