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1.  A Hypomethylated population of Brassica rapa for forward and reverse Epi-genetics 
BMC Plant Biology  2012;12:193.
Epigenetic marks superimposed on the DNA sequence of eukaryote chromosomes provide agility and plasticity in terms of modulating gene expression, ontology, and response to the environment. Modulating the methylation status of cytosine can generate epialleles, which have been detected and characterised at specific loci in several plant systems, and have the potential to generate novel and relatively stable phenotypes. There have been no systematic attempts to explore and utilise epiallelic variation, and so extend the range of phenotypes available for selection in crop improvement. We developed an approach for generating novel epialleles by perturbation of the DNA methylation status. 5- Azacytidine (5-AzaC) provides selective targeting of 5mCG, which in plants is associated with exonic DNA. Targeted chemical intervention using 5-AzaC has advantages over transgenic or mutant modulation of methyltransferases, allowing stochastic generation of epialleles across the genome.
We demonstrate the potential of stochastic chemically-induced hypomethylation to generate novel and valuable variation for crop improvement. Systematic analysis of dose–response to 5-AzaC in B. rapa guided generation of a selfed stochastically hypomethylated population, used for forward screening of several agronomic traits. Dose–response was sigmoidal for several traits, similar to that observed for chemical mutagens such as EMS. We demonstrated transgenerational inheritance of some phenotypes. BraRoAZ is a unique hypomethylated population of 1000 E2 sib lines. When compared to untreated controls, 5-Aza C-treated lines exhibited reduced immuno-staining of 5mC on pachytene chromosomes, and Methylation Sensitive Amplified Polymorphism (MSAP) profiles that were both divergent and more variable. There was coincident phenotypic variation among these lines for a range of seed yield and composition traits, including increased seed protein content and decreased oil content, as well as decreased erucic acid and corresponding increases in linoleic and/or palmitic acid. Each 5-AzaC-treated line represents a unique combination of hypomethylated epialleles.
The approach and populations developed are available for forward and reverse screening of epiallelic variation and subsequent functional and inheritance studies. The generation of stochastically hypomethylated populations has utility in epiallele discovery for a wide range of crop plants, and has considerable potential as an intervention strategy for crop improvement.
PMCID: PMC3507869  PMID: 23082790
DNA methylation; Hypomethylation; Epigenetics; Crop plants; Brassica; 5-Azacytidine
2.  A rich TILLING resource for studying gene function in Brassica rapa 
BMC Plant Biology  2010;10:62.
The Brassicaceae family includes the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana as well as a number of agronomically important species such as oilseed crops (in particular Brassica napus, B. juncea and B. rapa) and vegetables (eg. B. rapa and B. oleracea).
Separated by only 10-20 million years, Brassica species and Arabidopsis thaliana are closely related, and it is expected that knowledge obtained relating to Arabidopsis growth and development can be translated into Brassicas for crop improvement. Moreover, certain aspects of plant development are sufficiently different between Brassica and Arabidopsis to warrant studies to be carried out directly in the crop species. However, mutating individual genes in the amphidiploid Brassicas such as B. napus and B. juncea may, on the other hand, not give rise to expected phenotypes as the genomes of these species can contain up to six orthologues per single-copy Arabidopsis gene. In order to elucidate and possibly exploit the function of redundant genes for oilseed rape crop improvement, it may therefore be more efficient to study the effects in one of the diploid Brassica species such as B. rapa. Moreover, the ongoing sequencing of the B. rapa genome makes this species a highly attractive model for Brassica research and genetic resource development.
Seeds from the diploid Brassica A genome species, B. rapa were treated with ethyl methane sulfonate (EMS) to produce a TILLING (Targeting Induced Local Lesions In Genomes) population for reverse genetics studies. We used the B. rapa genotype, R-o-18, which has a similar developmental ontogeny to an oilseed rape crop. Hence this resource is expected to be well suited for studying traits with relevance to yield and quality of oilseed rape. DNA was isolated from a total of 9,216 M2 plants and pooled to form the basis of the TILLING platform. Analysis of six genes revealed a high level of mutations with a density of about one per 60 kb. This analysis also demonstrated that screening a 1 kb amplicon in just one third of the population (3072 M2 plants) will provide an average of 68 mutations and a 97% probability of obtaining a stop-codon mutation resulting in a truncated protein. We furthermore calculated that each plant contains on average ~10,000 mutations and due to the large number of plants, it is predicted that mutations in approximately half of the GC base pairs in the genome exist within this population.
We have developed the first EMS TILLING resource in the diploid Brassica species, B. rapa. The mutation density in this population is ~1 per 60 kb, which makes it the most densely mutated diploid organism for which a TILLING population has been published. This resource is publicly available through the RevGenUK reverse genetics platform
PMCID: PMC2923536  PMID: 20380715
3.  Origins of the amphiploid species Brassica napus L. investigated by chloroplast and nuclear molecular markers 
BMC Plant Biology  2010;10:54.
The amphiploid species Brassica napus (oilseed rape, Canola) is a globally important oil crop yielding food, biofuels and industrial compounds such as lubricants and surfactants. Identification of the likely ancestors of each of the two genomes (designated A and C) found in B. napus would facilitate incorporation of novel alleles from the wider Brassica genepool in oilseed rape crop genetic improvement programmes. Knowledge of the closest extant relatives of the genotypes involved in the initial formation of B. napus would also allow further investigation of the genetic factors required for the formation of a stable amphiploid and permit the more efficient creation of fully fertile re-synthesised B. napus. We have used a combination of chloroplast and nuclear genetic markers to investigate the closest extant relatives of the original maternal progenitors of B. napus. This was based on a comprehensive sampling of the relevant genepools, including 83 accessions of A genome B. rapa L. (both wild and cultivated types), 94 accessions of B. napus and 181 accessions of C genome wild and cultivated B. oleracea L. and related species.
Three chloroplast haplotypes occurred in B. napus. The most prevalent haplotype (found in 79% of accessions) was not present within the C genome accessions but was found at low frequencies in B. rapa. Chloroplast haplotypes characteristic of B. napus were found in a small number of wild and weedy B. rapa populations, and also in two accessions of cultivated B. rapa 'brocoletto'. Whilst introgression of the B. napus chloroplast type in the wild and weedy B. rapa populations has been proposed by other studies, the presence of this haplotype within the two brocoletto accessions is unexplained.
The distribution of chloroplast haplotypes eliminate any of the C genome species as being the maternal ancestor of the majority of the B. napus accessions. The presence of multiple chloroplast haplotypes in B. napus and B. rapa accessions was not correlated with nuclear genetic diversity as determined by AFLPs, indicating that such accessions do not represent recent hybrids. Whilst some chloroplast diversity observed within B. napus can be explained by introgression from inter-specific crosses made during crop improvement programmes, there is evidence that the original hybridisation event resulting in to B. napus occurred on more than one occasion, and involved different maternal genotypes.
PMCID: PMC2923528  PMID: 20350303

Results 1-3 (3)