“This is the first example where somebody has been able to take an epigenetic source of variation and, through selective breeding, move it from an inactive state to an active state,” said Jay Hollick, associate professor of molecular genetics at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. “The gene changes its expression in an epigenetic fashion and it doesn’t follow standard inheritance behaviors. Those two factors alone have pretty profound implications not only for breeding but also for evolution.”
With a longtime specialization in the molecular basis for unexpected gene activity in plants, Hollick had zeroed in on an enzyme called RNA polymerase IV (Pol IV). Multiple types of RNA polymerases are responsible for setting gene expression in motion in all cells, and Pol IV is an enigmatic RNA polymerase that is known in plants to produce small RNA molecules.
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