Dynamic changes in DNA methylation during embryonic and postnatal development of an altricial wild bird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

DNA methylation could shape phenotypic responses to environmental cues and underlie developmental plasticity. Environmentally induced changes in DNA methylation during development can give rise to stable phenotypic traits and thus affect fitness. In the laboratory, it has been shown that the vertebrate methylome undergoes dynamic reprogramming during development, creating a critical window for environmentally induced epigenetic modifications. Studies of DNA methylation in the wild are lacking, yet are essential for understanding how genes and the environment interact to affect phenotypic development and ultimately fitness. Furthermore, our knowledge of the establishment of methylation patterns during development in birds is limited. We quantified genome-wide DNA methylation at various stages of embryonic and postnatal development in an altricial passerine bird, the great tit Parus major. While, there was no change in global DNA methylation in embryonic tissue during the second half of embryonic development, a twofold increase in DNA methylation in blood occurred between 6 and 15 days posthatch. Though not directly comparable, DNA methylation levels were higher in the blood of nestlings compared with embryonic tissue at any stage of prenatal development. This provides the first evidence that DNA methylation undergoes global change during development in a wild bird, supporting the hypothesis that methylation mediates phenotypic development. Furthermore, the plasticity of DNA methylation demonstrated during late postnatal development, in the present study, suggests a wide window during which DNA methylation could be sensitive to environmental influences. This is particularly important for our understanding of the mechanisms by which early-life conditions influence later-life performance. While, we found no evidence for differences in genome-wide methylation in relation to habitat of origin, environmental variation is likely to be an important driver of variation in methylation at specific loci.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • University of Glasgow
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology

Keywords

  • birds, developmental plasticity, developmental programming, DNA methylation, epigenetics, phenotypic development
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2019
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes