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Plant Physiol. 2001 Mar;125(3):1283-92.

Active retrotransposons are a common feature of grass genomes.

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Plant Genomics Laboratory, Institute of Biotechnology, Viikki Biocenter, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 56, Viikinkaari 6, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland.


A large fraction of the genomes of grasses, members of the family Graminae, is composed of retrotransposons. These elements resemble animal retroviruses in their structure and possess a life cycle similar to theirs that includes transcription, translation, and integration of daughter copies. We have investigated if retrotransposons are generally transcribed in the grasses and other plants, and whether the various families of elements are translationally and integrationally active in multiple grass species. A systematic search of 7.8 x 10(5) publicly available expressed sequence tags from plants revealed widespread retrotransposon transcripts at a frequency of one in 1,000. Monocot retrotransposons found relatively more expressed sequence tags from non-source species than did those of dicots. Antibodies were raised to the capsid protein, GAG, of BARE-1, a transcribed and translated copia-like retrotransposon of barley (Hordeum vulgare). These detected immunoreactive proteins of sizes identical to those of the BARE-1 GAG and polyprotein, respectively, in other species of the tribe Triticeae as well as in oats (Avena sativa) and rice (Oryza sativa). Retrotransposon-based markers showed integrational polymorphisms for BARE-1 in different subfamilies of the Graminae. The results suggest that grasses share families of transcriptionally, translationally, and integrationally active retrotransposons, enabling a comparative and integrative approach to understanding the life cycle of retrotransposons and their impact on the genome.

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