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Mob DNA. 2013 Mar 4;4(1):9. doi: 10.1186/1759-8753-4-9.

Sirevirus LTR retrotransposons: phylogenetic misconceptions in the plant world.

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1
Institute of Applied Biosciences, Centre for Research and Technology Hellas, Thessaloniki 57001, Greece. alexandros.bousios@gmail.com.

Abstract

Sireviruses are an ancient and plant-specific LTR retrotransposon genus. They possess a unique genome structure that is characterized by a plethora of highly conserved sequence motifs in key domains of the non-coding genome, and often, by the presence of an envelope-like gene. Recently, their crucial role in the organization of the maize genome, where Sireviruses occupy approximately 21% of its nuclear content, was revealed, followed by an analysis of their distribution across the plant kingdom. It is now suggested that Sireviruses have been a major mediator of the evolution of many plant genomes. However, the name 'Sirevirus' has caused confusion in the scientific community in regards to their classification within the LTR retrotransposon order and their relationship with viruses - a situation that is not unique to Sireviruses, but also affects other LTR retrotransposon genera. Here, we clarify the phylogenetic position of Sireviruses as typical LTR retrotransposons of the Copia superfamily and explain that the confusion stems from the discrepancy in the categorization of LTR retrotransposons by the two main classification systems: the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) system and the unified classification system for eukaryotic transposable elements. While the name 'Sirevirus' has been given by ICTV, we show that the transposable element system, which is more suitable for eukaryotic genome studies, lacks an appropriate taxonomic level for describing them. We urge for this inconsistency to be addressed. Finally, we provide data suggesting that of the three ICTV-proposed genera of the Pseudoviridae (that is, Copia) family, only Sireviruses form a monophyletic group, while the phylogenetic distinction between Pseudoviruses and Hemiviruses is unclear. We conclude that because of their ongoing important contribution to the classification of transposable elements, these schemes need to be frequently revisited and revised - as shown by the example of the Sirevirus LTR retrotransposon genus.

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