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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37405. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037405. Epub 2012 May 21.

HeT-A_pi1, a piRNA target sequence in the Drosophila telomeric retrotransposon HeT-A, is extremely conserved across copies and species.

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  • 1Departament de Ciències Experimentals i de la Salut (DCEXS), Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain.


The maintenance of the telomeres in Drosophila species depends on the transposition of the non-LTR retrotransposons HeT-A, TAHRE and TART. HeT-A and TART elements have been found in all studied species of Drosophila suggesting that their function has been maintained for more than 60 million years. Of the three elements, HeT-A is by far the main component of D. melanogaster telomeres and, unexpectedly for an element with an essential role in telomere elongation, the conservation of the nucleotide sequence of HeT-A is very low. In order to better understand the function of this telomeric retrotransposon, we studied the degree of conservation along HeT-A copies. We identified a small sequence within the 3' UTR of the element that is extremely conserved among copies of the element both, within D. melanogaster and related species from the melanogaster group. The sequence corresponds to a piRNA target in D. melanogaster that we named HeT-A_pi1. Comparison with piRNA target sequences from other Drosophila retrotransposons showed that HeT-A_pi1 is the piRNA target in the Drosophila genome with the highest degree of conservation among species from the melanogaster group. The high conservation of this piRNA target in contrast with the surrounding sequence, suggests an important function of the HeT-A_pi1 sequence in the co-evolution of the HeT-A retrotransposon and the Drosophila genome.

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