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Open Access Research article

Large-scale transcriptome data reveals transcriptional activity of fission yeast LTR retrotransposons

Tobias Mourier* and Eske Willerslev

Author Affiliations

Ancient DNA and Evolution Group, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen, Denmark

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:167  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-167

Published: 12 March 2010

Abstract

Background

Retrotransposons are transposable elements that proliferate within eukaryotic genomes through a process involving reverse transcription. The numbers of retrotransposons within genomes and differences between closely related species may yield insight into the evolutionary history of the elements. Less is known about the ongoing dynamics of retrotransposons, as analysis of genome sequences will only reveal insertions of retrotransposons that are fixed - or near fixation - in the population or strain from which genetic material has been extracted for sequencing. One pre-requisite for retrotransposition is transcription of the elements. Given their intrinsic sequence redundancy, transcriptome-level analyses of transposable elements are scarce. We have used recently published transcriptome data from the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe to assess the ability to detect and describe transcriptional activity from Long Terminal Repeat (LTR) retrotransposons. LTR retrotransposons are normally flanked by two LTR sequences. However, the majority of LTR sequences in S. pombe exist as solitary LTRs, i.e. as single terminal repeat sequences not flanking a retrotransposon. Transcriptional activity was analysed for both full-length LTR retrotransposons and solitary LTRs.

Results

Two independent sets of transcriptome data reveal the presence of full-length, polyadenylated transcripts from LTR retrotransposons in S. pombe during growth phase in rich medium. The redundancy of retrotransposon sequences makes it difficult to assess which elements are transcriptionally active, but data strongly indicates that only a subset of the LTR retrotransposons contribute significantly to the detected transcription. A considerable level of reverse strand transcription is also detected. Equal levels of transcriptional activity are observed from both strands of solitary LTR sequences. Transcriptome data collected during meiosis suggests that transcription of solitary LTRs is correlated with the transcription of nearby protein-coding genes.

Conclusions

Presumably, the host organism negatively regulates proliferation of LTR retrotransposons. The finding of considerable transcriptional activity of retrotransposons suggests that part of this regulation is likely to take place at a post-transcriptional level. Alternatively, the transcriptional activity may signify a hitherto unrecognized activity level of retrotransposon proliferation. Our findings underline the usefulness of transcriptome data in elucidating dynamics in retrotransposon transcription.