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EMBO J. 1995 Jun 1;14(11):2670-8.

Sequence variability within the tobacco retrotransposon Tnt1 population.

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Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire, INRA, Centre de Versailles, France.


Retroviruses consist of populations of different but closely related genomes referred to as quasispecies. A high mutation rate coupled with extremely rapid replication cycles allows these sequences to be highly interconnected in a rapid equilibrium. It is not known if other retroelements can show a similar population structure. We show here that when the tobacco Tnt1 retrotransposon is expressed, its RNA is not a unique sequence but a population of different but closely related sequences. Nevertheless, this highly variable population is not in a rapid equilibrium and could not be considered as a quasispecies. We have thus named the structure presented by Tnt1 RNA quasispecies-like. We show that the expression of Tnt1 in different situations gives rise to different populations of Tnt1 RNA sequences, suggesting an adaptive capacity for this element. The analysis of the variability within the total genomic population of Tnt1 elements shows that mutations frequently occur in important regulatory elements and that defective elements are often produced. We discuss the implications that this population structure could have for Tnt1 regulation and evolution.

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