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Cytogenet Genome Res. 2005;110(1-4):491-9.

Retrons, msDNA, and the bacterial genome.

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Department of Health Sciences, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN, USA.


Retrons are distinct DNA sequences that code for a reverse transcriptase (RT) similar to the RTs produced by retroviruses and other types of retroelements. Retron DNAs are commonly associated with prophage DNA and are found in the genomes of a wide variety of different bacteria. The retron RT is used to synthesize a strange satellite DNA known as msDNA. msDNA is actually a complex of DNA, RNA, and probably protein. It is composed of a small, single-stranded DNA, linked to a small, single-stranded RNA molecule. The 5' end of the DNA molecule is joined to an internal guanosine residue of the RNA molecule by a unique 2'-5' phosphodiester bond. msDNA is produced in many hundreds of copies per cell, but its function remains unknown. Although retrons are absent from the genome of most members of a population of related bacteria, retrons may not be entirely benign DNAs. Evidence is beginning to suggest that retron elements may produce small but potentially significant effects on the host cell. This includes the generation of repeated copies of the msDNA sequence in the genome, and increasing the frequency of spontaneous mutations. Because these events involve the retron RT, this may represent a source of reverse transcription in the bacterial cell. Thus, the process of reverse transcription, a force that has profoundly affected the content and structure of most eukaryotic genomes, may likewise be responsible for changes in some prokaryotic genomes.

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