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Seed genome hypomethylated regions are enriched in transcription factor genes.


The precise mechanisms that control gene activity during seed development remain largely unknown. Previously, we showed that several genes essential for seed development, including those encoding storage proteins, fatty acid biosynthesis enzymes, and transcriptional regulators (e.g., ABI3, FUS3) are located within hypomethylated regions of the soybean genome. These hypomethylated regions are similar to the DNA methylation valleys (DMVs), or canyons, found in mammalian cells. Here, we address the question of the extent to which DMVs are present within seed genomes and what role they might play in seed development. We scanned soybean and Arabidopsis seed genomes from postfertilization through dormancy and germination for regions that contain <5% or <0.4% bulk methylation in CG, CHG, and CHH contexts over all developmental stages. We found that DMVs represent extensive portions of seed genomes, range in size from 5-76 kb, are scattered throughout all chromosomes, and are hypomethylated throughout the plant life cycle. Significantly, DMVs are enriched greatly in transcription factor (TF) genes and other developmental genes that play critical roles in seed formation. Many DMV genes are regulated with respect to seed stage, region, and tissue, and contain H3K4me3, H3K27me3, or bivalent marks that fluctuate during development. Our results indicate that DMVs are a unique regulatory feature of both plant and animal genomes, and that a large number of seed genes are regulated in the absence of methylation changes during development, probably by the action of specific TFs and epigenetic events at the chromatin level.

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