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Open Access Research article

Molecular characterization of a rice mutator-phenotype derived from an incompatible cross-pollination reveals transgenerational mobilization of multiple transposable elements and extensive epigenetic instability

Hongyan Wang1, Yang Chai1, Xiucheng Chu2, Yunyang Zhao1, Ying Wu1, Jihong Zhao2, Frédéric Ngezahayo1, Chunming Xu1* and Bao Liu13*

Author Affiliations

1 Key Laboratory of Molecular Epigenetics of MOE and Institute of Genetics & Cytology, Northeast Normal University, Changchun 130024, PR China

2 Tonghua Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hailong 135007, Jilin Province, PR China

3 Key Laboratory of Applied Statistics of MOE, Northeast Normal University, Changchun 130024, PR China

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BMC Plant Biology 2009, 9:63  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-9-63

Published: 29 May 2009



Inter-specific hybridization occurs frequently in plants, which may induce genetic and epigenetic instabilities in the resultant hybrids, allopolyploids and introgressants. It remains unclear however whether pollination by alien pollens of an incompatible species may impose a "biological stress" even in the absence of genome-merger or genetic introgression, whereby genetic and/or epigenetic instability of the maternal recipient genome might be provoked.


We report here the identification of a rice mutator-phenotype from a set of rice plants derived from a crossing experiment involving two remote and apparently incompatible species, Oryza sativa L. and Oenothera biennis L. The mutator-phenotype (named Tong211-LP) showed distinct alteration in several traits, with the most striking being substantially enlarged panicles. Expectably, gel-blotting by total genomic DNA of the pollen-donor showed no evidence for introgression. Characterization of Tong211-LP (S0) and its selfed progenies (S1) ruled out contamination (via seed or pollen) or polyploidy as a cause for its dramatic phenotypic changes, but revealed transgenerational mobilization of several previously characterized transposable elements (TEs), including a MITE (mPing), and three LTR retrotransposons (Osr7, Osr23 and Tos17). AFLP and MSAP fingerprinting revealed extensive, transgenerational alterations in cytosine methylation and to a less extent also genetic variation in Tong211-LP and its immediate progenies. mPing mobility was found to correlate with cytosine methylation alteration detected by MSAP but not with genetic variation detected by AFLP. Assay by q-RT-PCR of the steady-state transcript abundance of a set of genes encoding for the various putative DNA methyltransferases, 5-methylcytosine DNA glycosylases, and small interference RNA (siRNA) pathway-related proteins showed that, relative to the rice parental line, heritable perturbation in expression of 12 out of the 13 genes occurred in the mutator-phenotype and its sefled progenies.


Transgenerational epigenetic instability in the form of altered cytosine methylation and its associated TE activity occurred in a rice mutator-phenotype produced by pollinating the rice stigma with pollens of O. biennis. Heritably perturbed homeostatic expression-state of genes involved in maintenance of chromatin structure is likely an underlying cause for the alien pollination-induced transgenerational epigenetic/genetic instability, and which occurred apparently without entailing genome merger or genetic introgression.