Purdue University Graduate School

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posted on 2022-06-21, 14:29 authored by Russell S JulianRussell S Julian
Nitrogen (N), an essential plant macronutrient, is among the most limiting factors of crop yield. To sustain modern agriculture, N is often amended in soil in the form of chemical N fertilizer, a major anthropogenic contributor to nutrient pollution that affects climate, biodiversity and human health. To achieve agricultural sustainability, a comprehensive understanding of the regulation of N response in plants is required, in order to engineer crops with higher N use efficiency. Recently, epigenetic mechanisms, such as histone modifications, have gained increasing importance as a new layer of regulation of biological processes. However, our understanding of how epigenetic processes regulate N uptake and assimilation is still in its infancy. To fill this knowledge gap, we first performed a meta-analysis that combined functional genomics and network inference approaches to identify a set of N-responsive epigenetic regulators and predict their effects in regulating epigenome and transcriptome during plant N response. Our analysis suggested that histone modifications could serve as a regulatory mechanism underlying the global transcriptomic reprogramming during plant N response. To test this hypothesis, I applied chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing (ChIP-Seq) to monitor the genome-wide changes of four histone marks (H3K27ac, H3K4me3, H3K36me3 and H3K27me3) in response to N supply in tomato plants, followed by RNA-Seq to profile the transcriptomic changes. To investigate the organ specificity of histone modifications, I assayed shoots and roots separately. My results suggest that up to two-thirds of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) are modified in at least one of the four histone marks, supporting an integral role of histone modification in regulating N response. I observed a synergistic modification of active histone marks (H3K27ac, H3K4me3 and H3K36me3) at gene loci functionally relevant to N uptake and assimilation. Surprisingly, I uncovered a non-canonical role of H3K27me3, which is conventionally associated with repressed genes, in modulating active gene expression. Interestingly, such regulatory role of H3K27me3 is specifically associated with highly expressed genes or low expressed genes, depending on the organ context. Overall, I revealed the multi-faceted role of histone marks in mediating the plant N response, which will guide breeding and engineering of better crops with higher N use efficiency


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Horticulture

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Ying Li

Additional Committee Member 2

Clint Chapple

Additional Committee Member 3

Natalia Dudareva

Additional Committee Member 4

Joshua Widhalm