Abstract

Cytosine methylation is a DNA modification that is critical for vertebrate development and provides a plastic yet stable information module in addition to the DNA code. DNA methylation memory establishment, maintenance and erasure is carefully balanced by molecular machinery highly conserved among vertebrates. In mammals, extensive erasure of epigenetic marks, including 5-methylcytosine (5mC), is a hallmark of early embryo and germline development. Conversely, global cytosine methylation patterns are preserved in at least some non-mammalian vertebrates over comparable developmental windows. The evolutionary mechanisms which drove this divergence are unknown, nevertheless a direct consequence of retaining epigenetic memory in the form of 5mC is the enhanced potential for transgenerational epigenetic inheritance (TEI). Given that DNA methylation dynamics remains underexplored in most vertebrate lineages, the extent of information transferred to offspring by epigenetic modification might be underestimated.

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