RNA-mediated epigenetic regulation of DNA copy number
Increasing evidence suggests that parentally supplied RNA plays crucial roles during eukaryotic development. This epigenetic contribution may regulate gene expression from the earliest stages. Although present in a variety of eukaryotes, maternally inherited characters are especially prominent in ciliated protozoa, in which parental noncoding RNA molecules instruct whole-genome reorganization. This includes removal of nearly all noncoding DNA and sorting the remaining fragments, producing extremely gene-rich somatic genomes. Chromosome fragmentation and extensive replication produce variable DNA copy numbers in the somatic genome. Understanding the forces that drive and regulate copy number change is fundamental. We show that RNA molecules present in parental cells during sexual reproduction can regulate chromosome copy number in the developing nucleus of the ciliate Oxytricha. Experimentally induced changes in RNA abundance can both increase and decrease the levels of corresponding DNA molecules in progeny, demonstrating epigenetic inheritance of chromosome copy number. These results suggest that maternal RNA, in addition to controlling gene expression or DNA processing, can also program DNA amplification levels.