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Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Oct;29(10):3193-203. Epub 2012 May 15.

Recent retrotransposon insertions are methylated and phylogenetically clustered in japonica rice (Oryza sativa spp. japonica).

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA.


In plants, the genome of the host responds to the amplification of transposable elements (TEs) with DNA methylation. However, neither the factors involved in TE methylation nor the dynamics of the host-TE interaction are well resolved. Here, we identify 5,522 long terminal repeat retrotransposons (LTR-RT) in the genome of Oryza sativa ssp. japonica and then assess methylation for individual elements. Our analyses uncover three strong trends: long LTR-RTs are more highly methylated, the insertion times of LTR-RTs are negatively correlated with methylation, and young LTR-RTs tend to be closer to genes than older insertions. Additionally, a phylogenetic examination of the gypsy-like LTR-RT superfamily revealed that methylation is phylogenetically correlated. Given these observations, we present a model suggesting that the phylogenetic correlation among related LTR-RTs is a primary mechanism driving methylation. In this model, bursts of transposition produce new elements with high sequence similarity. The host machinery identifies proliferating elements as well as closely related LTR-RTs through cross-homology. In addition, our data are consistent with previous hypotheses that methylated LTR-RT elements are removed preferentially from regions near genes, explaining some of the observed age distribution.

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