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Open Access Research

The non-LTR retrotransposons in Ciona intestinalis: new insights into the evolution of chordate genomes

Jon Permanyer, Roser Gonzàlez-Duarte and Ricard Albalat*

Author Affiliations

Departament de Genètica, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 645, E-08028 Barcelona, Spain

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Genome Biology 2003, 4:R73  doi:10.1186/gb-2003-4-11-r73

Published: 21 October 2003

Abstract

Background

Non-long terminal repeat (non-LTR) retrotransposons have contributed to shaping the structure and function of genomes. In silico and experimental approaches have been used to identify the non-LTR elements of the urochordate Ciona intestinalis. Knowledge of the types and abundance of non-LTR elements in urochordates is a key step in understanding their contribution to the structure and function of vertebrate genomes.

Results

Consensus elements phylogenetically related to the I, LINE1, LINE2, LOA and R2 elements of the 14 eukaryotic non-LTR clades are described from C. intestinalis. The ascidian elements showed conservation of both the reverse transcriptase coding sequence and the overall structural organization seen in each clade. The apurinic/apyrimidinic endonuclease and nucleic-acid-binding domains encoded upstream of the reverse transcriptase, and the RNase H and the restriction enzyme-like endonuclease motifs encoded downstream of the reverse transcriptase were identified in the corresponding Ciona families.

Conclusions

The genome of C. intestinalis harbors representatives of at least five clades of non-LTR retrotransposons. The copy number per haploid genome of each element is low, less than 100, far below the values reported for vertebrate counterparts but within the range for protostomes. Genomic and sequence analysis shows that the ascidian non-LTR elements are unmethylated and flanked by genomic segments with a gene density lower than average for the genome. The analysis provides valuable data for understanding the evolution of early chordate genomes and enlarges the view on the distribution of the non-LTR retrotransposons in eukaryotes.