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Genetics. Jan 1998; 148(1): 233–242.
PMCID: PMC1459768

Conserved subfamilies of the Drosophila HeT-A telomere-specific retrotransposon.


HeT-A, a major component of Drosophila telomeres, is the first retrotransposon proposed to have a vital cellular function. Unlike most retrotransposons, more than half of its genome is noncoding. The 3' end contains > 2.5 kb of noncoding sequence. Copies of HeT-A differ by insertions or deletions and multiple nucleotide changes, which initially led us to conclude that HeT-A noncoding sequences are very fluid. However, we can now report, on the basis of new sequences and further analyses, that most of these differences are due to the existence of a small number of conserved sequence subfamilies, not to extensive sequence change during each transposition event. The high level of sequence conservation within subfamilies suggests that they arise from a small number of replicatively active elements. All HeT-A subfamilies show preservation of two intriguing features. First, segments of extremely A-rich sequence form a distinctive pattern within the 3' noncoding region. Second, there is a strong strand bias of nucleotide composition: The DNA strand running 5' to 3' toward the middle of the chromosome is unusually rich in adenine and unusually poor in guanine. Although not faced with the constraints of coding sequences, the HeT-A 3' noncoding sequence appears to be under other evolutionary constraints, possibly reflecting its roles in the telomeres.

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Selected References

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