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Brief Funct Genomics. 2014 Jul;13(4):308-17. doi: 10.1093/bfgp/elu005. Epub 2014 Mar 20.

Plant genome size variation: bloating and purging DNA.


Plant genome size variation is a dynamic process of bloating and purging DNA. While it was thought plants were on a path to obesity through continual DNA bloating, recent research supports that most plants activity purge DNA. Plant genome size research has greatly benefited from the cataloguing of genome size estimates at the Kew Plant DNA C-values Database, and the recent availability of over 50 fully sequenced and published plant genomes. The emerging trend is that plant genomes bloat due to the copy-and-paste proliferation of a few long terminal repeat retrotransposons (LTRs) and aggressively purge these proliferating LTRs through several mechanisms including illegitimate and incomplete recombination, and double-strand break repair through non-homologous end joining. However, ultra-small genomes such as Utricularia gibba (Bladderwort), which is 82 megabases (Mb), purge excess DNA through genome fractionation and neofunctionalization during multiple rounds of whole genome duplication (WGD). In contrast, the largest published genome, Picea abies (Norway Spruce) at 19 800 Mb, has no detectable WGD but has bloated with diverse and diverged LTRs that either have evaded purging mechanisms or these purging mechanism are absent in gymnosperms. Finally, advances in DNA methylation studies suggest that smaller genomes have a more aggressive epigenomic surveillance system to purge young LTR retrotransposons, which is less active or missing in larger genomes like the bloated gymnosperms. While genome size may not reflect genome complexity, evidence is mounting that genome size may reflect evolutionary status.


DNA methylation; epigenome; genome size variation; long terminal repeats retrotransposons (LTRs); small interfering RNA (siRNA); whole genome duplication (WGD)

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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