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EMBO J. 2002 Feb 1;21(3):461-9.

Endogenous viral sequences and their potential contribution to heritable virus resistance in plants.

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Institute of Molecular Biology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Billrothstrasse 11, A-5020 Salzburg, Austria.


Tobacco endogenous pararetroviruses (TEPRVs) represent the first virus-derived repetitive sequence family found in plants. The sequence conservation of TEPRVs and the lack of an exogenous form of the virus suggest that TEPRVs serve a beneficial function, perhaps by furnishing virus resistance via homologous sequence interactions. This hypothesis is supported by the observation that TEPRVs are methylated and negligibly transcribed. Moreover, transgenes driven by the TEPRV enhancer are silenced and methylated when introduced into tobacco, but remain active and unmethylated in non-host species devoid of sequences homologous to TEPRVs. In transgenic Arabidopsis, the TEPRV enhancer is active primarily in shoot meristems. This suggests that the virus giving rise to TEPRVs could infect germ cell precursors, a prerequisite for meiotically heritable insertions into host chromosomes. The copy number, organization and methylation of TEPRVs in tetraploid tobacco and one of its diploid ancestors, Nicotiana sylvestris, the presumed original host for the virus, have remained constant since polyploid formation. The remarkable conservation of these features in two independently evolving species further supports a role for TEPRVs in viral immunity.

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