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Genes Dev. 2016 Dec 15;30(24):2724-2736. doi: 10.1101/gad.290460.116.

The piggyBac transposon-derived genes TPB1 and TPB6 mediate essential transposon-like excision during the developmental rearrangement of key genes in Tetrahymena thermophila.

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Institute of Molecular Biology, Academia Sinica, Taipei 11529, Taiwan.
Division of Basic Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington 98109, USA.
Genome and Systems Biology Degree Program, National Taiwan University, Taipei 10617, Taiwan.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington 98109, USA.


Ciliated protozoans perform extreme forms of programmed somatic DNA rearrangement during development. The model ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila removes 34% of its germline micronuclear genome from somatic macronuclei by excising thousands of internal eliminated sequences (IESs), a process that shares features with transposon excision. Indeed, piggyBac transposon-derived genes are necessary for genome-wide IES excision in both Tetrahymena (TPB2 [Tetrahymena piggyBac-like 2] and LIA5) and Paramecium tetraurelia (PiggyMac). T. thermophila has at least three other piggyBac-derived genes: TPB1, TPB6, and TPB7 Here, we show that TPB1 and TPB6 excise a small, distinct set of 12 unusual IESs that disrupt exons. TPB1-deficient cells complete mating, but their progeny exhibit slow growth, giant vacuoles, and osmotic shock sensitivity due to retention of an IES in the vacuolar gene DOP1 (Dopey domain-containing protein). Unlike most IESs, TPB1-dependent IESs have piggyBac-like terminal inverted motifs that are necessary for excision. Transposon-like excision mediated by TPB1 and TPB6 provides direct evidence for a transposon origin of not only IES excision machinery but also IESs themselves. Our study highlights a division of labor among ciliate piggyBac-derived genes, which carry out mutually exclusive categories of excision events mediated by either transposon-like features or RNA-directed heterochromatin.


Tetrahymena; domesticated transposon; piggyBac; programmed genome rearrangement; vacuoles

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