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Plant Cell. 2003 Feb;15(2):381-91.

The maize genome contains a helitron insertion.

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Program in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology and Horticultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611-0690, USA.


The maize mutation sh2-7527 was isolated in a conventional maize breeding program in the 1970s. Although the mutant contains foreign sequences within the gene, the mutation is not attributable to an interchromosomal exchange or to a chromosomal inversion. Hence, the mutation was caused by an insertion. Sequences at the two Sh2 borders have not been scrambled or mutated, suggesting that the insertion is not caused by a catastrophic reshuffling of the maize genome. The insertion is large, at least 12 kb, and is highly repetitive in maize. As judged by hybridization, sorghum contains only one or a few copies of the element, whereas no hybridization was seen to the Arabidopsis genome. The insertion acts from a distance to alter the splicing of the sh2 pre-mRNA. Three distinct intron-bearing maize genes were found in the insertion. Of most significance, the insertion bears striking similarity to the recently described DNA helicase-bearing transposable elements termed HELITRONS: Like Helitrons, the inserted sequence of sh2-7527 is large, lacks terminal repeats, does not duplicate host sequences, and was inserted between a host dinucleotide AT. Like Helitrons, the maize element contains 5' TC and 3' CTRR termini as well as two short palindromic sequences near the 3' terminus that potentially can form a 20-bp hairpin. Although the maize element lacks sequence information for a DNA helicase, it does contain four exons with similarity to a plant DEAD box RNA helicase. A second Helitron insertion was found in the maize genomic database. These data strongly suggest an active Helitron in the present-day maize genome.

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