PloS one

Epigenetic Diversity of Clonal White Poplar (Populus alba L.) Populations: Could Methylation Support the Success of Vegetative Reproduction Strategy?

PMID 26147352


The widespread poplar populations of Sardinia are vegetatively propagated and live in different natural environments forming large monoclonal stands. The main goals of the present study were: i) to investigate/measure the epigenetic diversity of the poplar populations by determining their DNA methylation status; ii) to assess if and how methylation status influences population clustering; iii) to shed light on the changes that occur in the epigenome of ramets of the same poplar clone. To these purposes, 83 white poplar trees were sampled at different locations on the island of Sardinia. Methylation sensitive amplified polymorphism analysis was carried out on the genomic DNA extracted from leaves at the same juvenile stage. The study showed that the genetic biodiversity of poplars is quite limited but it is counterbalanced by epigenetic inter-population molecular variability. The comparison between MspI and HpaII DNA fragmentation profiles revealed that environmental conditions strongly influence hemi-methylation of the inner cytosine. The variable epigenetic status of Sardinian white poplars revealed a decreased number of population clusters. Landscape genetics analyses clearly demonstrated that ramets of the same clone were differentially methylated in relation to their geographic position. Therefore, our data support the notion that studies on plant biodiversity should no longer be restricted to genetic aspects, especially in the case of vegetatively propagated plant species.