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Genome Res. 2019 Jan;29(1):85-95. doi: 10.1101/gr.239699.118. Epub 2018 Dec 12.

Transposable element insertions in fission yeast drive adaptation to environmental stress.

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Section on Eukaryotic Transposable Elements, Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Cells are regularly exposed to a range of naturally occurring stress that can restrict growth or cause lethality. In response, cells activate expression networks with hundreds of genes that together increase resistance to common environmental insults. However, stress response networks can be insufficient to ensure survival, which raises the question of whether cells possess genetic programs that can promote adaptation to novel forms of stress. We found transposable element (TE) mobility in Schizosaccharomyces pombe was greatly increased when cells were exposed to unusual forms of stress such as heavy metals, caffeine, and the plasticizer phthalate. By subjecting TE-tagged cells to CoCl2, we found the TE integration provided the major path to resistance. Groups of insertions that provided resistance were linked to TOR regulation and metal response genes. We extended our study of adaptation by analyzing TE positions in 57 genetically distinct wild strains. The genomic positions of 1048 polymorphic LTRs were strongly associated with a range of stress response genes, indicating TE integration promotes adaptation in natural conditions. These data provide strong support for the idea, first proposed by Barbara McClintock, that TEs provide a system to modify the genome in response to stress.

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