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Retroelements, reverse transcriptase and evolution.

Author information

1
Department of Biochemistry, University, Dundee, U.K.

Abstract

Retroelements are genetic elements that can exist as DNA or RNA or DNA/RNA duplexes. Although retroviruses are the best known retroelements, there are many other types, including close relatives of retroviruses like LTR retrotransposons, more distant relatives like non-LTR retrotransposons, caulimoviruses and hepadnaviruses and elements with virtually no similarity, like retrons. Virtually all retroelements are 'selfish DNAs' with no involvement with the normal development or maintenance of their host cells, the only known exception being telomereres/telomerases which maintain the ends of chromosomes. Virtually all retroelements use tRNA, or RNA with strong secondary structure, to initiate their reverse transcription. The coincidence between the use of tRNA, a molecule central to the conversion of RNA to protein, with reverse transcriptase, an enzyme which is crucial for the conversion of RNA to DNA is striking, because RNA probably preceded DNA and protein in evolution. It seems plausible that retroelements were present at the genesis of living systems.

PMID:
7532085
DOI:
10.1016/0305-0491(94)00122-b
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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