Herbicide injury induces DNA methylome alterations in Arabidopsis
The emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds is a major threat facing modern agriculture. Over 470 weedy-plant populations have developed resistance to herbicides. Traditional evolutionary mechanisms are not always sufficient to explain the rapidity with which certain weed populations adapt in response to herbicide exposure. Stress-induced epigenetic changes, such as alterations in DNA methylation, are potential additional adaptive mechanisms for herbicide resistance. We performed methylC sequencing of Arabidopsis thaliana leaves that developed after either mock treatment or two different sub-lethal doses of the herbicide glyphosate, the most-used herbicide in the history of agriculture. The herbicide injury resulted in 9,205 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) across the genome. In total, 5,914 of these DMRs were induced in a dose-dependent manner, wherein the methylation levels were positively correlated to the severity of the herbicide injury, suggesting that plants can modulate the magnitude of methylation changes based on the severity of the stress. Of the 3,680 genes associated with glyphosate-induced DMRs, only 7% were also implicated in methylation changes following biotic or salinity stress. These results demonstrate that plants respond to herbicide stress through changes in methylation patterns that are, in general, dose-sensitive and, at least partially, stress-specific.