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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 8;108(6):2322-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018222108. Epub 2011 Jan 20.

Transposable elements and small RNAs contribute to gene expression divergence between Arabidopsis thaliana and Arabidopsis lyrata.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.


Transposable elements (TEs) are often the primary determinant of genome size differences among eukaryotes. In plants, the proliferation of TEs is countered through epigenetic silencing mechanisms that prevent mobility. Recent studies using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana have revealed that methylated TE insertions are often associated with reduced expression of nearby genes, and these insertions may be subject to purifying selection due to this effect. Less is known about the genome-wide patterns of epigenetic silencing of TEs in other plant species. Here, we compare the 24-nt siRNA complement from A. thaliana and a closely related congener with a two- to threefold higher TE copy number, Arabidopsis lyrata. We show that TEs--particularly siRNA-targeted TEs--are associated with reduced gene expression within both species and also with gene expression differences between orthologs. In addition, A. lyrata TEs are targeted by a lower fraction of uniquely matching siRNAs, which are associated with more effective silencing of TE expression. Our results suggest that the efficacy of RNA-directed DNA methylation silencing is lower in A. lyrata, a finding that may shed light on the causes of differential TE proliferation among species.

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