Epigenetics and plant development

Group Leaders
Julia Qüesta
Junior Leader Incoming Fellowship la Caixa


Our lab is interested in understanding the epigenetic mechanisms that control plant development. During their lifecycle, plants undergo several phase transitions; from gametophytic to sporophytic, embryonic to vegetative, and vegetative to reproductive development. All these developmental switches rely on the correct timing and sequence of gene expression patterns between individual stages. Chromatin dynamics and epigenetic mechanisms have been widely implicated in the regulation of phase transitions. In addition, plant long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) have recently been linked to key processes such as organogenesis, photomorphogenesis and the floral transition.

Remarkably, plants are unable to move around, implying that the different developmental switches must be tightly aligned to specific external cues (temperature, humidity and light quality) from the different seasons. To be capable of inferring seasonal information, plants have evolved systems to sense environmental signals and also to ‘remember’ previous exposure to these signals. In other words, although plants do not have a brain, they clearly exhibit a type of ‘molecular memory’ that is known as epigenetic memory.

The goal of our research team is to elucidate how lncRNAs and the chromatin silencing machinery trigger epigenetic memory in plants. To investigate this fascinating line of research, we are combining epigenomic, proteomic, bioimaging and genetic approaches. We aim to uncover the missing link between environmental sensing and epigenetic silencing, exploiting Arabidopsis and maize as model species.

Selected Publications

Jarad M, Antoniou-Kourounioti RL, Hepworth J, Qüesta JI.
Unique and contrasting effects of light and temperature cues on plant transcriptional programs.
(2020) Transcription, 11(3-4):134-159.

Qüesta JI*, Antoniou-Kourounioti RL*, Rosa S, Li P, Duncan S, Whittaker C, Howard M, Dean C.
Non-coding SNPs influence a distinct phase of Polycomb silencing to destabilise long-term epigenetic memory at Arabidopsis FLC.
(2020) Genes and Development, 34(5-6):446-461.
*These authors contributed equally.

Qüesta JI, Song J, Geraldo N, An H, Dean C.
Arabidopsis transcriptional repressor VAL1 triggers Polycomb silencing at FLC during vernalization.
(2016) Science, 29;353(6298):485-8.

Qüesta JI, Rius SP, Casadevall R, Casati P.
ZmMBD101 is a DNA binding protein that maintains Mutator elements chromatin in a repressive state in maize.
(2016) Plant Cell and Environment, 39(1):174-84.

Csorba T*, Qüesta JI*, Sun Q*, Dean C.
Antisense COOLAIR mediates the coordinated switching of chromatin states at FLC during vernalization.
(2014) PNAS, 11;111(45):16160-5.
*These authors contributed equally.