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Open Access Research

Insertion bias and purifying selection of retrotransposons in the Arabidopsis thaliana genome

Vini Pereira

Author Affiliations

Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Buckhurst Road, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK

Genome Biology 2004, 5:R79  doi:10.1186/gb-2004-5-10-r79

Published: 29 September 2004

Abstract

Background

Genome evolution and size variation in multicellular organisms are profoundly influenced by the activity of retrotransposons. In higher eukaryotes with compact genomes retrotransposons are found in lower copy numbers than in larger genomes, which could be due to either suppression of transposition or to elimination of insertions, and are non-randomly distributed along the chromosomes. The evolutionary mechanisms constraining retrotransposon copy number and chromosomal distribution are still poorly understood.

Results

I investigated the evolutionary dynamics of long terminal repeat (LTR)-retrotransposons in the compact Arabidopsis thaliana genome, using an automated method for obtaining genome-wide, age and physical distribution profiles for different groups of elements, and then comparing the distributions of young and old insertions. Elements of the Pseudoviridae family insert randomly along the chromosomes and have been recently active, but insertions tend to be lost from euchromatic regions where they are less likely to fix, with a half-life estimated at approximately 470,000 years. In contrast, members of the Metaviridae (particularly Athila) preferentially target heterochromatin, and were more active in the past.

Conclusion

Diverse evolutionary mechanisms have constrained both the copy number and chromosomal distribution of retrotransposons within a single genome. In A. thaliana, their non-random genomic distribution is due to both selection against insertions in euchromatin and preferential targeting of heterochromatin. Constant turnover of euchromatic insertions and a decline in activity for the elements that target heterochromatin have both limited the contribution of retrotransposon DNA to genome size expansion in A. thaliana.