Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Prickly holly reveals ability to adapt genetics to environmental change

Date:
December 13, 2012
Source:
Wiley
Summary:
Prickly holly leaves are a traditional Christmas decoration, from wreaths adorning homes, to greeting card scenes. Yet, look closer at a holly tree and while some leaves are prickly, others are not. Scientists believe variations within a single tree are the combined result of herbivore activity and molecular responses to environmental change.

Prickly holly leaves are a traditional Christmas decoration, from wreaths adorning homes, to greeting card scenes. Yet, look closer at a holly tree and while some leaves are prickly, others are not. Scientists writing in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society believe variations within a single tree are the combined result of herbivore activity and molecular responses to environmental change.

Related Articles


"The ability of an organism to change its characteristics in response to environmental variations is known as phenotypic plasticity and it is a key driving factor in the evolution of a species," said Dr Carlos Herrera from National Research Council of Spain (CSIC) in Seville. "In plants this is often seen in eye-catching changes to leaves and flowers related to variable growing conditions. Every gardener knows that leaves produced in deep shade and under full sun are often very different in size and shape."

However, this variation of leaf forms can also take place within a single tree of many different species, and it is known as heterophylly. Dr Herrera partnered with Ms Pilar Bazaga, also from CSIC, to explore this phenomenon in European holly (Ilex aquifolium) a pioneer species, with a strong ability to accommodate to changing conditions.

"Heterophylly is often witnessed in holly trees, where some leaves are prickly, a defense against herbivores, while others are non-prickly, with smooth margins and no defense," said Dr Herrera. "We wanted to find out if this variation was a response to environmental changes and if this took place without wider genetic change, that is, without alteration of the organism's DNA sequence."

"Heterophylly is a widespread phenomenon occurring in many different types of plants," Dr Mike Fay, Chief Editor of the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. "By coincidence it is also a conspicuous feature of ivy (Hedera helix), another plant associated with Christmas decorations."

Such change is known as epigenetics and to explore the biological mechanics behind this process the scientists turned to methylation, a chemical modification of DNA which does not alter the DNA sequence of an organism, but can have decisive consequences.

DNA methylation profiles, heterophylly and herbivory were studied in 40 holly trees from a forest in South Eastern Spain. 39 were found to be heterophyllous, with branches displaying prickly and non-prickly leaves in neighbouring positions.

The team then explored the feeding activity of browsing deer and goats to see if this was the environmental factor driving this genetic diversity. The team found a significant relationship between recent feeding and the growth of prickly leaves, noting that under the height of 2.5 meters, the average reach of an adult red deer, leaves were consistently pricklier.

The results revealed a clear link herbivore activity, phenotypic plasticity and epigenetic changes involving modifications in the methylation status of cytosine, one of the building blocks of DNA molecules. This supports the theory that epigenetic variation alone can be a source of variation in natural plant populations that does not require changes in the DNA sequence.

"An increasing number of studies support the idea that the presence of spines and prickles in plants is a response to herbivore activity, and our research suggests this is the case with holly," concluded Dr Herrera. "The ability of plants to respond to environmental changes through quick epigenetic modifications makes also one to feel a bit more optimistic about plant survival in a quickly changing world."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Wiley. "Prickly holly reveals ability to adapt genetics to environmental change." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 December 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121212205452.htm>.
Wiley. (2012, December 13). Prickly holly reveals ability to adapt genetics to environmental change. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121212205452.htm
Wiley. "Prickly holly reveals ability to adapt genetics to environmental change." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121212205452.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) Millions of monarch butterflies begin to descend onto Mexico as part of their annual migration south. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Newsy (Dec. 19, 2014) A new study suggests a certain type of bird was able to sense a tornado outbreak that moved through the U.S. a day before it hit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins