|dc.description.abstract||DNA methylation is an epigenetic mark critical for vertebrate development and is associated with numerous cellular and organismal processes including X-chromosome inactivation, genomic imprinting, and regulation of gene expression. Importantly, DNA methylation patterns are faithfully inherited during cell division, providing an information memory module additional to the DNA code. This mark, along with other epigenetic modifications, plays an essential role in establishing and maintaining cell identity. DNA methylation dynamics has been studied in detail in eutherian mammals, where two major waves of demethylation, the first in the early embryo and the second during germline development, remove most marks. Erasure of epigenetic memory is associated with cell reprogramming, and in mammals, is inextricably linked to increased developmental potency. For divergent vertebrate models, this dynamic is largely untested and indirect evidence suggests epigenetic memory may be retained in the germline. Furthermore, the role of epigenetic memory and reprogramming in major cell fate transitions, such as sex determination and sex change, is underexplored despite being apparently driven by epigenetic mechanisms in at least some species.
In order to understand how epigenetic memory is maintained, erased, and reprogrammed in divergent vertebrates, I have focused on two fish species. I have analysed the epigenome of the germline during gonad development in zebrafish (Danio rerio), and the transcriptome and methylome of bluehead wrasse (Thalassoma bifasciatum) during female-to-male sex change. Using a combination of techniques, including isolation of germline cells, whole genome bisulfite sequencing, and comparative epigenomics and transcriptomics, I explored epigenetic memory and reprogramming in these species. This thesis is presented as a collection of research and review papers, as well as a discussion synthesising my results.||