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?
Small RNAs: Master regulators of epigenetic silencing in plants
May 18, 2017 | Sarma Rajeev Kumar | RNA Technologies
Transcription factors read epigenetics
May 10, 2017 | Timothy Hughes, Samuel Lambert | Science
Small RNAs reflect grandparental environments in apomictic dandelion
May 09, 2017 | Lionel Morgado | Molecular Biology and Evolution
The causes and consequences of DNA methylome variation in plants
April 20, 2017 | Danelle K Seymour, Claude Becker | Current Opinion in Plant Biology
Proteome scale identification, classification and structural analysis of iron-binding proteins in bread wheat
April 06, 2017 | Shailender Kumar Verma | Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry
Zooming in on nuclear organization
March 22, 2017 | Katharine Wrighton | Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology