Genome-wide DNA methylation alterations of Alternanthera philoxeroides in natural and manipulated habitats: implications for epigenetic regulation of rapid responses to environmental fluctuation and phenotypic variation


J. Yang. Fax: 86-21-65643494; e-mail:


Alternanthera philoxeroides (alligator weed) is an invasive weed that can colonize both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Individuals growing in different habitats exhibit extensive phenotypic variation but little genetic differentiation in its introduced range. The mechanisms underpinning the wide range of phenotypic variation and rapid adaptation to novel and changing environments remain uncharacterized. In this study, we examined the epigenetic variation and its correlation with phenotypic variation in plants exposed to natural and manipulated environmental variability. Genome-wide methylation profiling using methylation-sensitive amplified fragment length polymorphism (MSAP) revealed considerable DNA methylation polymorphisms within and between natural populations. Plants of different source populations not only underwent significant morphological changes in common garden environments, but also underwent a genome-wide epigenetic reprogramming in response to different treatments. Methylation alterations associated with response to different water availability were detected in 78.2% (169/216) of common garden induced polymorphic sites, demonstrating the environmental sensitivity and flexibility of the epigenetic regulatory system. These data provide evidence of the correlation between epigenetic reprogramming and the reversible phenotypic response of alligator weed to particular environmental factors.