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Analysis of plant LTR-retrotransposons at the fine-scale family level reveals individual molecular patterns

Douglas S Domingues14, Guilherme MQ Cruz1, Cushla J Metcalfe1, Fabio TS Nogueira2, Renato Vicentini3, Cristiane de S Alves2 and Marie-Anne Van Sluys1*

  • * Corresponding author: Marie-Anne Van Sluys

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 GaTE Lab, Depto. de Botânica, Inst. de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, Rua do Matão, 277, 05508-090 São Paulo, Brazil

2 Depto. de Genética, Inst. de Biociências, Universidade Estadual Paulista, campus de Botucatu, Distrito de Rubião Jr., s/n, 18618-000 Botucatu, Brazil

3 Systems Biology Laboratory, Centro de Biologia Molecular e Engenharia Genética, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Av. Cândido Rondon, 400, 13083-875 Campinas, Brazil

4 Plant Biotechnology Laboratory, Instituto Agronômico do Paraná, Rod. Celso Garcia Cid (PR-445), km375, 86047-902 Londrina, Brazil

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:137  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-137

Published: 16 April 2012



Sugarcane is an important crop worldwide for sugar production and increasingly, as a renewable energy source. Modern cultivars have polyploid, large complex genomes, with highly unequal contributions from ancestral genomes. Long Terminal Repeat retrotransposons (LTR-RTs) are the single largest components of most plant genomes and can substantially impact the genome in many ways. It is therefore crucial to understand their contribution to the genome and transcriptome, however a detailed study of LTR-RTs in sugarcane has not been previously carried out.


Sixty complete LTR-RT elements were classified into 35 families within four Copia and three Gypsy lineages. Structurally, within lineages elements were similar, between lineages there were large size differences. FISH analysis resulted in the expected pattern of Gypsy/heterochromatin, Copia/euchromatin, but in two lineages there was localized clustering on some chromosomes. Analysis of related ESTs and RT-PCR showed transcriptional variation between tissues and families. Four distinct patterns were observed in sRNA mapping, the most unusual of which was that of Ale1, with very large numbers of 24nt sRNAs in the coding region. The results presented support the conclusion that distinct small RNA-regulated pathways in sugarcane target the lineages of LTR-RT elements.


Individual LTR-RT sugarcane families have distinct structures, and transcriptional and regulatory signatures. Our results indicate that in sugarcane individual LTR-RT families have distinct behaviors and can potentially impact the genome in diverse ways. For instance, these transposable elements may affect nearby genes by generating a diverse set of small RNA's that trigger gene silencing mechanisms. There is also some evidence that ancestral genomes contribute significantly different element numbers from particular LTR-RT lineages to the modern sugarcane cultivar genome.

LTR Retrotransposons; Sugarcane; Genome; FISH; Epigenetic; Small RNA