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Open Access Research article

Identification, characterization and distribution of transposable elements in the flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) genome

Leonardo Galindo González and Michael K Deyholos*

Author affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:644  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-644

Published: 21 November 2012

Abstract

Background

Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) is an important crop for the production of bioproducts derived from its seed and stem fiber. Transposable elements (TEs) are widespread in plant genomes and are a key component of their evolution. The availability of a genome assembly of flax (Linum usitatissimum) affords new opportunities to explore the diversity of TEs and their relationship to genes and gene expression.

Results

Four de novo repeat identification algorithms (PILER, RepeatScout, LTR_finder and LTR_STRUC) were applied to the flax genome assembly. The resulting library of flax repeats was combined with the RepBase Viridiplantae division and used with RepeatMasker to identify TEs coverage in the genome. LTR retrotransposons were the most abundant TEs (17.2% genome coverage), followed by Long Interspersed Nuclear Element (LINE) retrotransposons (2.10%) and Mutator DNA transposons (1.99%). Comparison of putative flax TEs to flax transcript databases indicated that TEs are not highly expressed in flax. However, the presence of recent insertions, defined by 100% intra-element LTR similarity, provided evidence for recent TE activity. Spatial analysis showed TE-rich regions, gene-rich regions as well as regions with similar genes and TE density. Monte Carlo simulations for the 71 largest scaffolds (≥ 1 Mb each) did not show any regional differences in the frequency of TE overlap with gene coding sequences. However, differences between TE superfamilies were found in their proximity to genes. Genes within TE-rich regions also appeared to have lower transcript expression, based on EST abundance. When LTR elements were compared, Copia showed more diversity, recent insertions and conserved domains than the Gypsy, demonstrating their importance in genome evolution.

Conclusions

The calculated 23.06% TE coverage of the flax WGS assembly is at the low end of the range of TE coverages reported in other eudicots, although this estimate does not include TEs likely found in unassembled repetitive regions of the genome. Since enrichment for TEs in genomic regions was associated with reduced expression of neighbouring genes, and many members of the Copia LTR superfamily are inserted close to coding regions, we suggest Copia elements have a greater influence on recent flax genome evolution while Gypsy elements have become residual and highly mutated.

Keywords:
Transposable elements; Flax; Genome evolution; LTR elements; Gene expression