The merger of two or more divergent genomes within an allopolyploid nucleus can facilitate speciation and adaptive evolution in flowering plants. Widespread changes to gene expression have been shown to result from interspecific hybridisation and polyploidy in a number of plant species, and attention has now shifted to determining the epigenetic processes that drive these changes. We present here an analysis of cytosine methylation patterns in triploid F1Senecio (ragwort) hybrids and their allohexaploid derivatives. We observe that, in common with similar studies in Arabidopsis, Spartina and Triticum, a small but significant proportion of loci display nonadditive methylation in the hybrids, largely resulting from interspecific hybridisation. Despite this, genome duplication results in a secondary effect on methylation, with reversion to additivity at some loci and novel methylation status at others. We also observe differences in methylation state between different allopolyploid generations, predominantly in cases of additive methylation with regard to which parental methylation state is dominant. These changes to methylation state in both F1 triploids and their allohexaploid derivatives largely mirror the overall patterns of nonadditive gene expression observed in our previous microarray analyses and may play a causative role in generating those expression changes. These similar global changes to DNA methylation resulting from hybridisation and genome duplication may serve as a source of epigenetic variation in natural populations, facilitating adaptive evolution. Our observations that methylation state can also vary between different generations of polyploid hybrids suggests that newly formed allopolyploid species may display a high degree of epigenetic diversity upon which natural selection can act.
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