Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 4; 7:39843. doi: 10.1038/srep39843.
Epigenetic mechanisms are crucial mediators of appropriate plant reactions to adverse environments, but their involvement in long-term adaptation is less clear. Here, we established two rice epimutation accumulation lines by applying drought conditions to 11 successive generations of two rice varieties. We took advantage of recent technical advances to examine the role of DNA methylation variations on rice adaptation to drought stress. We found that multi-generational drought improved the drought adaptability of offspring in upland fields. At single-base resolution, we discovered non-random appearance of drought-induced epimutations. Moreover, we found that a high proportion of drought-induced epimutations maintained their altered DNA methylation status in advanced generations. In addition, genes related to transgenerational epimutations directly participated in stress-responsive pathways. Analysis based on a cluster of drought-responsive genes revealed that their DNA methylation patterns were affected by multi-generational drought. These results suggested that epigenetic mechanisms play important roles in rice adaptations to upland growth conditions. Epigenetic variations have morphological, physiological and ecological consequences and are heritable across generations, suggesting that epigenetics can be considered an important regulatory mechanism in plant long-term adaptation and evolution under adverse environments.