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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Transcriptional activity of transposable elements in maize

Carlos M Vicient

Author affiliations

Departament of Molecular Genetics, Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics, CSIC (IRTA-UAB), Jordi Girona, 18, 08034 Barcelona, Spain

Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2010, 11:601  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-601

Published: 25 October 2010

Abstract

Background

Mobile genetic elements represent a high proportion of the Eukaryote genomes. In maize, 85% of genome is composed by transposable elements of several families. First step in transposable element life cycle is the synthesis of an RNA, but few is known about the regulation of transcription for most of the maize transposable element families. Maize is the plant from which more ESTs have been sequenced (more than two million) and the third species in total only after human and mice. This allowed us to analyze the transcriptional activity of the maize transposable elements based on EST databases.

Results

We have investigated the transcriptional activity of 56 families of transposable elements in different maize organs based on the systematic search of more than two million expressed sequence tags. At least 1.5% maize ESTs show sequence similarity with transposable elements. According to these data, the patterns of expression of each transposable element family is variable, even within the same class of elements. In general, transcriptional activity of the gypsy-like retrotransposons is higher compared to other classes. Transcriptional activity of several transposable elements is specially high in shoot apical meristem and sperm cells. Sequence comparisons between genomic and transcribed sequences suggest that only a few copies are transcriptionally active.

Conclusions

The use of powerful high-throughput sequencing methodologies allowed us to elucidate the extent and character of repetitive element transcription in maize cells. The finding that some families of transposable elements have a considerable transcriptional activity in some tissues suggests that, either transposition is more frequent than previously expected, or cells can control transposition at a post-transcriptional level.