A diploid organism has two copies of each gene, one inherited from each parent. The expression of two inherited alleles is sometimes biased by the effects known as dominant/recessive relationships, which determine the final phenotype of the organism. To explore the mechanisms underlying these relationships, we have examined the monoallelic expression of S-locus protein 11 genes (SP11), which encode the male determinants of self-incompatibility in Brassica. We previously reported that SP11 expression was monoallelic in some S heterozygotes, and that the promoter regions of recessive SP11 alleles were specifically methylated in the anther tapetum. Here we show that this methylation is controlled by trans-acting small non-coding RNA (sRNA). We identified inverted genomic sequences that were similar to the recessive SP11 promoters in the flanking regions of dominant SP11 alleles. These sequences were specifically expressed in the anther tapetum and processed into 24-nucleotide sRNA, named SP11 methylation inducer (Smi). Introduction of the Smi genomic region into the recessive S homozygotes triggered the methylation of the promoter of recessive SP11 alleles and repressed their transcription. This is an example showing sRNA encoded in the flanking region of a dominant allele acts in trans to induce transcriptional silencing of the recessive allele. Our finding may provide new insights into the widespread monoallelic gene expression systems.
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