Hybrid incompatibility resulting from deleterious gene combinations is thought to be an important step towards reproductive isolation and speciation. Here we demonstrate involvement of a silent epiallele in hybrid incompatibility. In Arabidopsis thaliana strain Col-0, one of the two copies of a duplicated histidine biosynthesis gene, HISN6B is not expressed, for reasons that have been unclear, making its paralog, HISN6A essential. By contrast, in strain Cvi-0, HISN6B is essential because HISN6A is mutated. As a result of these differences, Cvi-0 x Col-0 hybrid progeny that are homozygous for both Col-0 HISN6B and Cvi-0 HISN6A do not survive. We show that HISN6B is not a defective pseudogene in the Col-0 strain, but a stably silenced epiallele. Mutating HISTONE DEACETYLASE 6 (HDA6) or the cytosine methyltransferase genes, MET1 or CMT3 erases HISN6B's silent locus identity in Col-0, reanimating the gene such that hisn6a lethality and hybrid incompatibility are circumvented. These results show that HISN6-dependent hybrid lethality is a revertible epigenetic phenomenon and provide additional evidence that epigenetic variation has the potential to limit gene flow between diverging populations of a species.
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