Project properties

Title Should epigenetic variation be considered in germplasm conservation?
Group Plant Breeding, Laboratory of
Project type thesis
Credits 24-36 ECTS
Supervisor(s) Rik Lievers
Examiner(s) Herman van Eck
Contact info Rik Lievers
Begin date 2023/07/01
End date 2024/07/01
Description The Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands (CGN) maintains a collection of genetic resources of agricultural and horticultural crops, mainly in the form of seeds. This collection is used by the breeding sector to develop varieties with new phenotypic traits, for instance, varieties with improved resistance against pests and diseases or varieties with increased drought tolerance. There is growing evidence that phenotypic traits are not only determined by the genetic constitution of plants, but also by epigenetic variation. Epigenetic variation, such as DNA methylation, may potentially provide an untapped molecular resource that could be exploited for crop improvement. This means that genebanks are not only conserving plant genetic resources, but also plant epigenetic resources. However, genebank management procedures are directed at conserving an optimal amount of genetic variation (e.g. the core collections and rationalization decisions are often made by using genetic data), but do these procedures need modification considering the presence of epigenetic variation? This project aims to review the available data regarding the function of epigenetic variation in plants and its relevance for crop breeding, and how this may impact genetic resource management.
Used skills This project will start with a literature study, collecting the relevant papers on investigations of the function and relevance of epigenetics in plants. This will be used to review the status of our understanding of the sources of epigenetic variation, the effect thereof on plant phenotypic variation, and the stability of newly induced epigenetic variation across generations. Furthermore, it will be investigated how epigenetic variation is, or can be, used in practice, e.g. for crop breeding purposes. And thus, is information on epigenetic variation of accessions stored in genebanks relevant for its users? Also, what are potential ways in which genebanks could make use of epigenetics to improve their management practices e.g. for making core collections or rationalization decisions, to distinguish between lines, or otherwise? These investigations will be performed through a literature survey but may also include an inventory among breeding companies and genebanks. The results of the literature study will conclude with a recommendation on how CGN should take into account epigenetic variation in its management practices. This project will be carried out in a cooperation between CGN and NIOO-KNAW.
Requirements Genebank management, Phenotypic variation, Epigenetics, Variety improvement