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Genes Dev. 2010 Jan 1;24(1):33-44. doi: 10.1101/gad.557310. Epub 2009 Dec 15.

Alpha3, a transposable element that promotes host sexual reproduction.

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Department of Developmental Biology, Wennergren Institute, Stockholm University, SE-10691 Stockholm, Sweden.


Theoretical models predict that selfish DNA elements require host sex to persist in a population. Therefore, a transposon that induces sex would strongly favor its own spread. We demonstrate that a protein homologous to transposases, called alpha3, was essential for mating type switch in Kluyveromyces lactis. Mutational analysis showed that amino acids conserved among transposases were essential for its function. During switching, sequences in the 5' and 3' flanking regions of the alpha3 gene were joined, forming a DNA circle, showing that alpha3 mobilized from the genome. The sequences encompassing the alpha3 gene circle junctions in the mating type alpha (MATalpha) locus were essential for switching from MATalpha to MATa, suggesting that alpha3 mobilization was a coupled event. Switching also required a DNA-binding protein, Mating type switch 1 (Mts1), whose binding sites in MATalpha were important. Expression of Mts1 was repressed in MATa/MATalpha diploids and by nutrients, limiting switching to haploids in low-nutrient conditions. A hairpin-capped DNA double-strand break (DSB) was observed in the MATa locus in mre11 mutant strains, indicating that mating type switch was induced by MAT-specific DSBs. This study provides empirical evidence for selfish DNA promoting host sexual reproduction by mediating mating type switch.

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