Properties of epigenetic variation and its evolutionary consequences (EPIMUT)

Main funder

Funder's project number: 328856

Funds granted by main funder (€)

  • 292 064,00

Funding program

Project timetable

Project start date: 01/09/2019

Project end date: 31/08/2022


Traditionally only genetic changes have been considered to be the raw material of evolution. However, it is now clear that epigenetic changes, such as DNA methylation, histone modifications, and small RNAs can be inherited at least to some extent. In recent years, evidence for epigenetic inheritance has accumulated in multiple systems. Some epigenetic changes appear to be spontaneous, while others are induced by the environment, and may be a mechanism for transgenerational effects. Anything that can be inherited can in principle have a role in evolution, as evolutionary theory does not require a specific mechanism for inheritance. However, spontaneous epigenetic changes have different properties than genetic mutations and thus epigenetic changes can cause different types of evolutionary dynamics compared to genetic mutations. My previous work has investigated the role of epigenetic mutations in adaptation using both theoretical models and experiments. I have shown that epigenetic mutations can cause two-phase evolutionary dynamics where epigenetic mutations are first responsible for adaptation, followed by genetic mutations that fix the same phenotype. I have also experimental evidence indicates that DNA methylation changes participate in adaptation.

To incorporate epigenetic changes to evolutionary theory we need to have a better understanding of the properties of epigenetic changes. Therefore, I propose to perform two large experiments. In the first experiment, I will determine the rate and stability of spontaneous DNA methylation and histone modification changes in the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa by using a mutation accumulation experiment and subsequently determining changes in DNA methylation and histone modifications by whole genome sequencing. This will provide accurate estimates of rates of several types of epigenetic changes. Moreover, I will measure the phenotypic effects of epigenetic changes, which are extremely important in understanding the evolutionary consequences of epigenetic mutations. In the second experiment, I will determine if transgenerational effects are present in Neurospora, how stable they are across generations, and if they are due to epigenetic changes induced by the environment. Estimating rates, stability, and phenotypic effects of epigenetic changes will allow parametrizing evolutionary models with realistic values and will allow determining how epigenetic changes influence adaptation and evolution.

Principal Investigator

Primary responsible unit

Last updated on 2021-17-03 at 12:05