Epigenetics : a catalyst of plant immunity against pathogens


The plant immune system protects against pests and diseases. The recognition of stress-related molecular patterns triggers localised immune responses, which are often followed by longer-lasting systemic priming and/or up-regulation of defences. In some cases, this induced resistance (IR) can be transmitted to following generations. Such transgenerational IR is gradually reversed in the absence of stress at a rate that is proportional to the severity of disease experienced in previous generations. This review outlines the mechanisms by which epigenetic responses to pathogen infection shape the plant immune system across expanding time scales. We review the cis- and trans-acting mechanisms by which stress-inducible epigenetic changes at transposable elements (TEs) regulate genome-wide defence gene expression and draw particular attention to one regulatory model that is supported by recent evidence about the function of AGO1 and H2A.Z in transcriptional control of defence genes. Additionally, we explore how stress-induced mobilisation of epigenetically controlled TEs acts as a catalyst of Darwinian evolution by generating (epi)genetic diversity at environmentally responsive genes. This raises questions about the long-term evolutionary consequences of stress-induced diversification of the plant immune system in relation to the long-held dichotomy between Darwinian and Lamarckian evolution

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