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Annu Rev Genet. 1999;33:479-532.

Plant retrotransposons.

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  • 1Scottish Crop Research Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee, Scotland.


Retrotransposons are mobile genetic elements that transpose through reverse transcription of an RNA intermediate. Retrotransposons are ubiquitous in plants and play a major role in plant gene and genome evolution. In many cases, retrotransposons comprise over 50% of nuclear DNA content, a situation that can arise in just a few million years. Plant retrotransposons are structurally and functionally similar to the retrotransposons and retroviruses that are found in other eukaryotic organisms. However, there are important differences in the genomic organization of retrotransposons in plants compared to some other eukaryotes, including their often-high copy numbers, their extensively heterogeneous populations, and their chromosomal dispersion patterns. Recent studies are providing valuable insights into the mechanisms involved in regulating the expression and transposition of retrotransposons. This review describes the structure, genomic organization, expression, regulation, and evolution of retrotransposons, and discusses both their contributions to plant genome evolution and their use as genetic tools in plant biology.

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