The chromatin landscape of barley
: gene expression, evolution and epigenetics

  • Katie Baker

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is an economically important crop species with a large diploid genome. Around a half of the barley genome and a fifth of the genes are constrained within a low-recombining pericentromeric (LR-PC) region. I explored the LR-PC gene component with a genomic investigation of gene expression, diversity and evolution. Chromatin environments were also explored in the LR and high recombining (HR) regions by surveying the genic and genomic distributions of nine histone modifications.

    Firstly, regions of HR and LR were identified and compared for gene evolution, expression and diversity. LR regions of the barley genome were found to be restrictive for gene evolution and diversity, but not gene expression. I employed a bioinformatics approach to identify ancient gene pairs in barley to determine the long-term effects of residency in those regions upon gene evolution. Gene pair loss in LR regions was found to be elevated relative to the HR regions. Applying the same method to rice and Brachypodium distachyon revealed the same situation, suggesting a universal process in the grasses for loss of gene pairs in LR regions. The chromosomal distributions of transposable elements (TEs) were also explored and examined for correlations with recombination rate.

    Secondly, I developed a chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by Next Generation Sequencing (ChIP-seq) protocol for the investigation of histone modifications in barley seedlings. A protocol was optimised for the fixation, extraction and sonication of barley chromatin. The protocol was applied using antibodies against 13 different histone modifications. Following DNA library construction and Illumina sequencing, a bioinformatics pipeline was devised to analyse the sequence data. NGS reads were mapped to a custom assembly of the barley cultivar Morex reference genome sequence before peak calling. Genomic and genic locations were determined for the covalently modified histones. Four modifications were discarded from further study on the basis of low peak numbers or unexpected chromosomal locations. The remaining nine modifications were classified into four groups based on chromosomal distributions. Groupings were closely mirrored by peak sharing relationships between the modifications except histone H3 lysine-27 tri-methylation (H3K27me3). In addition, chromatin states representing local chromatin environments were defined in the barley genome using the peak sharing data. Mapping the states onto the genome revealed a striking chromatin structure of the gene-rich chromosome arms. A telomere-proximal region bearing high levels of H3K27me3-containing states was found adjacent to an interior gene-rich region characterised by active chromatin states lacking H3K27me3. The LTR retroelement-rich interior was found to be associated with repressive chromatin states. The histone modification status of TE classes were also probed revealing unexpected differences relating to the genomic and genic distributions of these elements. Finally, a genome browser was created to host the information publicly.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAndrew Flavell (Supervisor) & Micha Bayer (Supervisor)


    • Chromatin
    • Barley
    • Epigenomics
    • Pericentromere
    • Recombination
    • Histone modifications
    • Gene evolution

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