Rice Epigenomics: How Does Epigenetic Manipulation of Crops Contribute to Agriculture?
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Production of rice (Oryza sativa)—the staple food of over half the world’s population, especially those living in poverty—must continue to increase to meet the rising demand. The availability of a wide variety of natural rice resources has enabled highly efficient breeding approaches that have successfully improved productivity as well as biotic and abiotic stress tolerances. However, recent changes in global climate tendencies are imposing additional pressures on rice production, with the need for varieties showing unprecedented characteristics to counter adverse environments calling for innovative responses from breeders and researchers. Recent developments in epigenetic research in Arabidopsis thaliana have provided a plethora of data on epigenetic regulation in gene expression and development, paving the way to crop improvement via epigenetic manipulation. At ~400 Mb, the rice genome is the smallest among cereal crops and is relatively tractable with current molecular genetics techniques. This chapter begins by comparing characteristics of the rice genome and epigenome with those of Arabidopsis, before presenting some examples of epigenetic regulation in plants, with the emphasis on agriculturally important traits including abiotic stress responses. Most molecular studies on epigenetic modifications affecting plant phenotypes have been done in Arabidopsis, but examples of epigenetic regulation of agriculturally important traits in rice are accumulating rapidly. Current problems and difficulties in applying epigenetic manipulation to rice and ensuring stable maintenance of the modified epigenetic states to secure given agricultural traits under natural conditions will then be discussed.
KeywordsAbiotic stress Crop breeding Epigenome Rice Transgenerational epigenome inheritance
I thank Helen Rothnie for comments on the manuscript and Rie Takahashi for technical assistance. This work was supported by a grant (CREST) from Japan Science and Technology Agency to YH.
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