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Microbiol Spectr. 2015 Apr;3(2):MDNA3-0011-2014. doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.MDNA3-0011-2014.

Integration, Regulation, and Long-Term Stability of R2 Retrotransposons.

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1
Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627.

Abstract

R2 elements are sequence specific non-LTR retrotransposons that exclusively insert in the 28S rRNA genes of animals. R2s encode an endonuclease that cleaves the insertion site and a reverse transcriptase that uses the cleaved DNA to prime reverse transcription of the R2 transcript, a process termed target primed reverse transcription. Additional unusual properties of the reverse transcriptase as well as DNA and RNA binding domains of the R2 encoded protein have been characterized. R2 expression is through co-transcription with the 28S gene and self-cleavage by a ribozyme encoded at the R2 5' end. Studies in laboratory stocks and natural populations of Drosophila suggest that R2 expression is tied to the distribution of R2-inserted units within the rDNA locus. Most individuals have no R2 expression because only a small fraction of their rRNA genes need to be active, and a contiguous region of the locus free of R2 insertions can be selected for activation. However, if the R2-free region is not large enough to produce sufficient rRNA, flanking units - including those inserted with R2 - must be activated. Finally, R2 copies rapidly turnover within the rDNA locus, yet R2 has been vertically maintained in animal lineages for hundreds of millions of years. The key to this stability is R2's ability to remain dormant in rDNA units outside the transcribed regions for generations until the stochastic nature of the crossovers that drive the concerted evolution of the rDNA locus inevitably reshuffle the inserted and uninserted units, resulting in transcription of the R2-inserted units.

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