Farmers face challenges in growing crops: climate change, pests, droughts, and diseases. Many of the crops they grow, however, already have the genes that are vital for the plant’s response to these challenges. However, many of these genes are too active or aren’t active enough to overcome these stressors. Scientists studying plant epigenetics see this as an avenue to help improve crops by modulating the activity of these genes. So these ‘epigenetically modified organisms’ (EMOs) could be made, for example, drought resistant by tweaking the activity of genes involved in water retention. Others believe modifying epigenetics could make a plant more nutritious by increasing the activity of genes that produce a vitamin or nutrient in the plant. But this doesn’t mean EMOs will be replacing GMOs or traditional breeding on the farm anytime soon. Scientists must first determine how permanent and heritable epigenetic modifications are in plants–which is very different than investigating epigenetics in animals.

Understanding Epigenetics:
Check out these stories for more context on epigenetics and agriculture
Could Epigenetics Help Feed the World?
Natalie Crowley | What is epigenetics?
Chromatin marks and ambient temperature-dependent flowering strike up a novel liaison
June 21, 2017 | Alexander Steffen, Dorothee Staiger | Genome Biology
Epigenomics: Dissecting hybridization and polyploidization
June 20, 2017 | Scott A. Jackson | Genome Biology
Propagation of Polycomb-repressed chromatin requires sequence-specific recruitment to DNA
June 08, 2017 | Friederike Laprell, Katja Finkl, Jürg Müller | Science
Small RNAs: Master regulators of epigenetic silencing in plants
May 18, 2017 | Sarma Rajeev Kumar | RNA Technologies