VERNALIZATION INSENSITIVE 3-LIKE (VIL) proteins are PHD-finger proteins that recruit the repressor complex Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) to the promoters of target genes. Most known VIL targets are flowering repressor genes. Here, we show that the tomato VIL gene CRAWLING ELEPHANT (CREL) promotes differentiation throughout plant development by facilitating the trimethylation of Histone H3 on lysine 27 (H3K27me3). We identified the crel mutant in a screen for suppressors of the simple-leaf phenotype of entire (e), a mutant in the AUX/IAA gene ENTIRE/SlIAA9, involved in compound-leaf development in tomato. crel mutants have increased leaf complexity, and suppress the ectopic blade growth of e mutants. In addition, crel mutants are late flowering, and have delayed and aberrant stem, root and flower development. Consistent with a role for CREL in recruiting PRC2, crel mutants show drastically reduced H3K27me3 enrichment at approximately half of the 14,789 sites enriched in wild-type plants, along with upregulation of many underlying genes. Interestingly, this reduction in H3K27me3 across the genome in crel is also associated with gains in H3K27me3 at a smaller number of sites that normally have modest levels of the mark in wild-type plants, suggesting that PRC2 activity is no longer limiting in the absence of CREL. Our results uncover a wide role for CREL in plant and organ differentiation in tomato and suggest that CREL is required for targeting PRC2 activity to, and thus silencing, a specific subset of polycomb targets.
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