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Open Access Research article

Does epigenetic polymorphism contribute to phenotypic variances in Jatropha curcas L.?

Chengxin Yi1, Shilu Zhang1, Xiaokun Liu2, Ha TN Bui2 and Yan Hong12*

Author Affiliations

1 JOil (S) Pte Ltd, 1 Research Link, Singapore 117604

2 Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, 1 Research Link, National University of Singapore 117604

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BMC Plant Biology 2010, 10:259  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-10-259

Published: 23 November 2010



There is a growing interest in Jatropha curcas L. (jatropha) as a biodiesel feedstock plant. Variations in its morphology and seed productivity have been well documented. However, there is the lack of systematic comparative evaluation of distinct collections under same climate and agronomic practices. With the several reports on low genetic diversity in jatropha collections, there is uncertainty on genetic contribution to jatropha morphology.


In this study, five populations of jatropha plants collected from China (CN), Indonesia (MD), Suriname (SU), Tanzania (AF) and India (TN) were planted in one farm under the same agronomic practices. Their agronomic traits (branching pattern, height, diameter of canopy, time to first flowering, dormancy, accumulated seed yield and oil content) were observed and tracked for two years. Significant variations were found for all the agronomic traits studied. Genetic diversity and epigenetic diversity were evaluated using florescence Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (fAFLP) and methylation sensitive florescence AFLP (MfAFLP) methods. Very low level of genetic diversity was detected (polymorphic band <0.1%) within and among populations. In contrast, intermediate but significant epigenetic diversity was detected (25.3% of bands were polymorphic) within and among populations. More than half of CCGG sites surveyed by MfAFLP were methylated with significant difference in inner cytosine and double cytosine methylation among populations. Principal coordinates analysis (PCoA) based on Nei's epigenetic distance showed Tanzania/India group distinct from China/Indonesia/Suriname group. Inheritance of epigenetic markers was assessed in one F1 hybrid population between two morphologically distinct parent plants and one selfed population. 30 out of 39 polymorphic markers (77%) were found heritable and followed Mendelian segregation. One epiallele was further confirmed by bisulphite sequencing of its corresponding genomic region.


Our study confirmed climate and practice independent differences in agronomic performance among jatropha collections. Such agronomic trait variations, however, were matched by very low genetic diversity and medium level but significant epigenetic diversity. Significant difference in inner cytosine and double cytosine methylation at CCGG sites was also found among populations. Most epigenetic differential markers can be inherited as epialleles following Mendelian segregation. These results suggest possible involvement of epigenetics in jatropha development.