Understanding Epigenetic Memory Through the Language of the Plant Methylome

Plant Biology

Alenka Hafner, Penn State University

December 4, 2023 @ 12:10 pm to 01:10 pm

108 Wartik Laboratory
University Park

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Research Summary:

As sessile organisms, plants need to make a continuous series of decisions about their development and reproduction in response to a host of environmental signals. In response to stress, plants undergo programmed epigenetic changes that can be transmitted to progeny. Although the phenomenon of transgenerational stress memory has been observed in natural populations, it has proven difficult to recapitulate under experimental conditions. An exception is the Arabidopsis MSH1 memory model for studies of long-term epigenetic memory and phenotypic “bet-hedging”. Causing genome-wide chromatin remodeling, this model system is uniquely suited for studying DNA methylation. 5- cytosine methylation is an epigenetic modification with many remaining unknowns, particularly its function in sparsely methylated genic regions. A signal detection approach to methylome analysis, with a higher resolution than conventional methods, can start to decipher the language of the plant epigenome in experimental and natural stress conditions.

About the Speaker:

Alenka Hafner is a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Sally Mackenzie’s group. She joined the Plant Biology graduate program at Penn State in 2020, after obtaining her BA (Hons) in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge. Her interests lie in the interplay of plant epigenetic memory, phenotypic plasticity, and stress adaptation. Alenka’s work investigates different aspects of epigenetic responses to stress in plants, with a focus on DNA methylation reprogramming. In her spare time, she is enthusiastic about community-based data reuse standards and served as one of the 2022/23 chairs of the Huck Graduate Student Advisory Committee.


Sally Mackenzie