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Epigenetic Memories of Plants Aid Adaption to Climate Change

Animals have the potential for rapid adaptation to survive dangerous environmental conditions. Also, there is a huge increase in evidence to show that plants can also do the same.

Epigenetic Memories of Plants Aid Adaption to Climate Change

Image Credit: Romolo Tavani/

A study performed has elaborately shown how plants are quickly getting adapted to the harmful effects of climate change, and how they are giving off these adaptations to their offspring.

The study was published in the Trends in Plant Science journal on November 17th, 2022.

One day I thought how the living style and experience of a person can affect his or her gametes transmitting molecular marks of their life into their children.

Federico Martinelli, Plant Geneticist, University of Florence

Martinelli added, “Immediately I thought that even more epigenetic marks must be transmitted in plants, being that plants are sessile organisms that are subjected to many more environmental stresses than animals during their life.”

Currently, plants are being subjected to more environmental stressors than what was faced by them before. For instance, climate change is responsible for making winters shorter and less severe in several locations, and hence plants are reacting to it.

Many plants require a minimum period of cold in order to set up their environmental clock to define their flowering time. As cold seasons shorten, plants have adapted to require less period of cold to delay flowering. These mechanisms allow plants to avoid flowering in periods where they have less chances to reproduce.

Federico Martinelli, Plant Geneticist, University of Florence

Since plants do not consist of neural networks, their memory depends completely on molecular, cellular, and biochemical networks. Such networks fabricate what the scientists named somatic memory.

Martinelli stated, “These mechanisms allow plants to recognize the occurrence of a previous environmental condition and to react more promptly in presence of the same consequential condition.”

Further, these somatic memories could be passed to the plants’ progeny through epigenetics.

We have highlighted key genes, proteins, and small oligonucleotides, which previous studies have shown play a key role in the memory of abiotic stresses such as drought, salinity, cold, heat, and heavy metals and pathogen attacks.

Federico Martinelli, Plant Geneticist, University of Florence

Martinelli added, “In this peer-reviewed opinion piece, we provide several examples that demonstrate the existence of molecular mechanisms modulating plant memory to environmental stresses and affecting the adaptation of offspring to these stresses.”

Moving forward, Martinelli and his collaborators hope to comprehend more in detail regarding the genes that are being passed down.

Martinelli stated, “We are particularly interested in decoding the epigenetic alphabet underlying all the modifications of the genetic material caused by the environment, without changes in DNA sequence. This is especially important when we consider the rapid climate change we observe today that every living organism, including plants, needs to quickly adapt to in order to survive.”

Journal Reference:

Gallusci, P., et al. (2022) Deep inside the epigenetic memories of stressed plants. Trends in Plant Science.

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