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Concept: Transposon


In this issue of Genome Biology, Nellåker et al. show massive purging of deleterious transposable element variants, through negative selection, in 18 mouse strains.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Molecular biology, RNA, Plasmid, Transposon, Selfish DNA


It is universally true in ecological communities, terrestrial or aquatic, temperate or tropical, that some species are very abundant, others are moderately common, and the majority are rare. Likewise, eukaryotic genomes also contain classes or “species” of genetic elements that vary greatly in abundance: DNA transposons, retrotransposons, satellite sequences, simple repeats and their less abundant functional sequences such as RNA or genes. Are the patterns of relative species abundance and diversity similar among ecological communities and genomes? Previous dynamical models of genomic diversity have focused on the selective forces shaping the abundance and diversity of transposable elements (TEs). However, ideally, models of genome dynamics should consider not only TEs, but also the diversity of all genetic classes or “species” populating eukaryotic genomes. Here, in an analysis of the diversity and abundance of genetic elements in >500 eukaryotic chromosomes, we show that the patterns are consistent with a neutral hypothesis of genome assembly in virtually all chromosomes tested. The distributions of relative abundance of genetic elements are quite precisely predicted by the dynamics of an ecological model for which the principle of functional equivalence is the main assumption. We hypothesize that at large temporal scales an overarching neutral or nearly neutral process governs the evolution of abundance and diversity of genetic elements in eukaryotic genomes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Evolution, Organism, Genome, RNA, Chromosome, Transposon


Retrotransposons are mobile genetic elements, and their mobility can lead to genomic instability. Retrotransposon insertions are associated with a diverse range of sporadic diseases, including cancer. Thus, it is not a surprise that multiple host defense mechanisms suppress retrotransposition. The 2',5'-oligoadenylate (2-5A) synthetase (OAS)-RNase L system is a mechanism for restricting viral infections during the interferon antiviral response. Here, we investigated a potential role for the OAS-RNase L system in the restriction of retrotransposons. Expression of wild type (WT) and a constitutively active form of RNase L (NΔ385), but not a catalytically inactive RNase L mutant (R667A), impaired the mobility of engineered human LINE-1 (L1) and mouse intracisternal A-type particle retrotransposons in cultured human cells. Furthermore, WT RNase L, but not an inactive RNase L mutant (R667A), reduced L1 RNA levels and subsequent expression of the L1-encoded proteins (ORF1p and ORF2p). Consistently, confocal immunofluorescent microscopy demonstrated that WT RNase L, but not RNase L R667A, prevented formation of L1 cytoplasmic foci. Finally, siRNA-mediated depletion of endogenous RNase L in a human ovarian cancer cell line (Hey1b) increased the levels of L1 retrotransposition by ∼2-fold. Together, these data suggest that RNase L might function as a suppressor of structurally distinct retrotransposons.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Cell, Disease, Virus, RNA, Transposon, Mobile genetic elements


The PIWI-interacting RNA (piRNA) pathway has an essential role in transposon silencing, meiosis progression, spermatogenesis, and germline maintenance. HIWI genes are critical for piRNA biogenesis and function. Therefore, polymorphisms in HIWI genes contribute to spermatogenesis defects and can be considered as risk factors for male infertility. The aim of the present study was to investigate the association between the HIWI2 gene rs508485 polymorphism and non-obstructive azoospermia.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Allele, RNA, Chromosome, Andrology, Transposon, Piwi-interacting RNA


Maize was domesticated from lowland teosinte (Zea mays ssp. parviglumis), but the contribution of highland teosinte (Zea mays ssp. mexicana, hereafter mexicana) to modern maize is not clear. Here, two genomes for Mo17 (a modern maize inbred) and mexicana are assembled using a meta-assembly strategy after sequencing of 10 lines derived from a maize-teosinte cross. Comparative analyses reveal a high level of diversity between Mo17, B73, and mexicana, including three Mb-size structural rearrangements. The maize spontaneous mutation rate is estimated to be 2.17 × 10-8 ~3.87 × 10-8 per site per generation with a nonrandom distribution across the genome. A higher deleterious mutation rate is observed in the pericentromeric regions, and might be caused by differences in recombination frequency. Over 10% of the maize genome shows evidence of introgression from the mexicana genome, suggesting that mexicana contributed to maize adaptation and improvement. Our data offer a rich resource for constructing the pan-genome of Zea mays and genetic improvement of modern maize varieties.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Maize, Transposon, Genetic algorithm, Zea


Piwi-interacting RNAs are small regulatory RNAs with key roles in transposon silencing and regulation of gametogenesis. The production of mature piwi-interacting RNAs requires a critical step of trimming piwi-interacting RNA intermediates to achieve optimally sized piwi-interacting RNAs. The poly(A)-specific ribonuclease family deadenylase PNLDC1 is implicated in piwi-interacting RNA trimming in silkworms. The physiological function of PNLDC1 in mammals remains unknown. Using Pnldc1-deficient mice, here we show that PNLDC1 is required for piwi-interacting RNA biogenesis, transposon silencing, and spermatogenesis. Pnldc1 mutation in mice inhibits piwi-interacting RNA trimming and causes accumulation of untrimmed piwi-interacting RNA intermediates with 3' end extension, leading to severe reduction of mature piwi-interacting RNAs in the testis. Pnldc1 mutant mice exhibit disrupted LINE1 retrotransposon silencing and defect in spermiogenesis. Together, these results define PNLDC1 as a mammalian piwi-interacting RNA biogenesis factor that protects the germline genome and ensures normal sperm production in mice.piRNAs are regulatory RNAs that play a critical role in transposon silencing and gametogenesis. Here, the authors provide evidence that mammalian PNLDC1 is a regulator of piRNA biogenesis, transposon silencing and spermatogenesis, protecting the germline genome in mice.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, RNA, Sperm, Spermatogenesis, Transposon, Piwi-interacting RNA, Retrotransposon


Boto, a class II transposable element, was characterized in the Moniliophthora perniciosa genome. The Boto transposase is highly similar to plant PIF-like transposases that belong to the newest class II superfamily known as PIF/Harbinger. Although Boto shares characteristics with PIF-like elements, other characteristics, such as the transposase intron position, the position and direction of the second ORF, and the footprint, indicate that Boto belongs to a novel family of the PIF/Harbinger superfamily. Southern blot analyses detected 6-12 copies of Boto in C-biotype isolates and a ubiquitous presence among the C- and S-biotypes, as well as a separation in the C-biotype isolates from Bahia State in Brazil in at least two genotypic groups, and a new insertion in the genome of a C-biotype isolate maintained in the laboratory for 6 years. In addition to PCR amplification from a specific insertion site, changes in the Boto hybridization profile after the M. perniciosa sexual cycle and detection of Boto transcripts gave further evidence of Boto activity. As an active family in the genome of M. perniciosa, Boto elements may contribute to genetic variability in this homothallic fungus. This is the first report of a PIF/Harbinger transposon in the genome of a phytopathogenic fungus.

Concepts: DNA, Mutation, Evolution, Molecular biology, RNA, Transposon, Barbara McClintock, Transposase


Put a cap on it: Hairpin-shaped RNAs and dumbbell-shaped RNAs were prepared using a thiol-maleimino Michael addition and exhibited good serum and thermal stability. These capped structures were shown to be cleaved by Dicer and RNA interference (RNAi) experiments showed that RhpRNA was highly efficient at RNAi with an IC50 value of 6 pM.

Concepts: Virus, RNA, Small interfering RNA, RNA interference, RNA polymerase, Transposon, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, RNA-induced transcriptional silencing


Short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) are promising therapeutics that make use of the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway but liabilities arising from the native RNA structure necessitate chemical modification for drug development. Advances in the structural characterization of components of the human RNAi pathway have enabled structure-guided optimization of siRNA proper-ties. Here we report the 2.3 Å resolution crystal structure of human Argonaute 2 (hAgo2), a key nuclease in the RNAi path-way, bound to a siRNA guide strand bearing an unnatural tria-zolyl nucleotide at position one (g1). Unlike natural nucleo-tides, this analog inserts deeply into hAgo2’s central RNA bind-ing cleft, and is thus able to modulate pairing between guide and target RNAs. The affinity of the hAgo2-siRNA complex for a seed-only matched target was significantly reduced by the tria-zolyl modification while affinity for a fully matched target was unchanged. In addition, siRNA potency for off-target repression was reduced (4-fold increase in IC50) by the modification while on-target knockdown was improved (2-fold reduction in IC50). Controlling siRNA on-target vs miRNA-like off-target potency by projection of substituent groups into the hAgo2 central cleft from g1 is a new approach to enhancing siRNA selectivity with a strong structural rationale.

Concepts: Virus, RNA, Small interfering RNA, RNA interference, RNA polymerase, Transposon, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, RNA-induced transcriptional silencing


House dust mites are common pests with an unusual evolutionary history, being descendants of a parasitic ancestor. Transition to parasitism is frequently accompanied by genome rearrangements, possibly to accommodate the genetic change needed to access new ecology. Transposable element (TE) activity is a source of genomic instability that can trigger large-scale genomic alterations. Eukaryotes have multiple transposon control mechanisms, one of which is RNA interference (RNAi). Investigation of the dust mite genome failed to identify a major RNAi pathway: the Piwi-associated RNA (piRNA) pathway, which has been replaced by a novel small-interfering RNAs (siRNAs)-like pathway. Co-opting of piRNA function by dust mite siRNAs is extensive, including establishment of TE control master loci that produce siRNAs. Interestingly, other members of the Acari have piRNAs indicating loss of this mechanism in dust mites is a recent event. Flux of RNAi-mediated control of TEs highlights the unusual arc of dust mite evolution.

Concepts: Genetics, Bacteria, Evolution, RNA, RNA interference, Transposon, House dust mite, Piwi-interacting RNA