Epigenetic regulation of stomatal development that allows for anatomical and phenotypic plasticity


Low relative humidity triggers RNA-directed de novo DNA methylation and suppression of genes controlling stomatal development.

by Tricker P. J., Gibbings J. G., Rodríguez López C. M., Hadley P., Wilkinson M. J. (2012)

Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Edward Llywd Building, University of Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 3DA, UK

in J. Exp. Bot. 2012, 63, 3799–3813. – DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/ers076

[Google Scholar] – 



Environmental cues influence the development of stomata on the leaf epidermis, and allow plants to exert plasticity in leaf stomatal abundance in response to the prevailing growing conditions.

It is reported that Arabidopsis thaliana ‘Landsberg erecta’ plants grown under low relative humidity have a reduced stomatal index and that two genes in the stomatal development pathway, SPEECHLESS and FAMA, become de novo cytosine methylated and transcriptionally repressed.

These environmentally-induced epigenetic responses were abolished in mutants lacking the capacity for de novo DNA methylation, for the maintenance of CG methylation, and in mutants for the production of short-interfering non-coding RNAs (siRNAs) in the RNA-directed DNA methylation pathway.

Induction of methylation was quantitatively related to the induction of local siRNAs under low relative humidity.

Our results indicate the involvement of both transcriptional and post-transcriptional gene suppression at these loci in response to environmental stress. Thus, in a physiologically important pathway, a targeted epigenetic response to a specific environmental stress is reported and several of its molecular, mechanistic components are described, providing a tractable platform for future epigenetics experiments.

Our findings suggest epigenetic regulation of stomatal development that allows for anatomical and phenotypic plasticity, and may help to explain at least some of the plant’s resilience to fluctuating relative humidity.


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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