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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Diaspora, a large family of Ty3-gypsy retrotransposons in Glycine max, is an envelope-less member of an endogenous plant retrovirus lineage

Sho T Yano1, Bahman Panbehi2, Arpita Das3 and Howard M Laten4*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637 USA

2 Department of Biomolecular Chemistry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706 USA

3 Neuronautics, Inc., Evanston, IL 60201 USA

4 Department of Biology, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL 60626 USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2005, 5:30  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-5-30

Published: 5 May 2005

Abstract

Background

The chromosomes of higher plants are littered with retrotransposons that, in many cases, constitute as much as 80% of plant genomes. Long terminal repeat retrotransposons have been especially successful colonizers of the chromosomes of higher plants and examinations of their function, evolution, and dispersal are essential to understanding the evolution of eukaryotic genomes. In soybean, several families of retrotransposons have been identified, including at least two that, by virtue of the presence of an envelope-like gene, may constitute endogenous retroviruses. However, most elements are highly degenerate and are often sequestered in regions of the genome that sequencing projects initially shun. In addition, finding potentially functional copies from genomic DNA is rare. This study provides a mechanism to surmount these issues to generate a consensus sequence that can then be functionally and phylogenetically evaluated.

Results

Diaspora is a multicopy member of the Ty3-gypsy-like family of LTR retrotransposons and comprises at least 0.5% of the soybean genome. Although the Diaspora family is highly degenerate, and with the exception of this report, is not represented in the Genbank nr database, a full-length consensus sequence was generated from short overlapping sequences using a combination of experimental and in silico methods. Diaspora is 11,737 bp in length and contains a single 1892-codon ORF that encodes a gag-pol polyprotein. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that it is closely related to Athila and Calypso retroelements from Arabidopsis and soybean, respectively. These in turn form the framework of an endogenous retrovirus lineage whose members possess an envelope-like gene. Diaspora appears to lack any trace of this coding region.

Conclusion

A combination of empirical sequencing and retrieval of unannotated Genome Survey Sequence database entries was successfully used to construct a full-length representative of the Diaspora family in Glycine max. Diaspora is presently the only fully characterized member of a lineage of putative plant endogenous retroviruses that contains virtually no trace of an extra coding region. The loss of an envelope-like coding domain suggests that non-infectious retrotransposons could swiftly evolve from infectious retroviruses, possibly by anomalous splicing of genomic RNA.