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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Tandem repeats derived from centromeric retrotransposons

Anupma Sharma, Thomas K Wolfgruber and Gernot G Presting*

Author affiliations

Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Agricultural Science Building Rm 218, 1955 East–West Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2013, 14:142  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-142

Published: 4 March 2013



Tandem repeats are ubiquitous and abundant in higher eukaryotic genomes and constitute, along with transposable elements, much of DNA underlying centromeres and other heterochromatic domains. In maize, centromeric satellite repeat (CentC) and centromeric retrotransposons (CR), a class of Ty3/gypsy retrotransposons, are enriched at centromeres. Some satellite repeats have homology to retrotransposons and several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the expansion, contraction as well as homogenization of tandem repeats. However, the origin and evolution of tandem repeat loci remain largely unknown.


CRM1TR and CRM4TR are novel tandem repeats that we show to be entirely derived from CR elements belonging to two different subfamilies, CRM1 and CRM4. Although these tandem repeats clearly originated in at least two separate events, they are derived from similar regions of their respective parent element, namely the long terminal repeat (LTR) and untranslated region (UTR). The 5’ ends of the monomer repeat units of CRM1TR and CRM4TR map to different locations within their respective LTRs, while their 3’ ends map to the same relative position within a conserved region of their UTRs. Based on the insertion times of heterologous retrotransposons that have inserted into these tandem repeats, amplification of the repeats is estimated to have begun at least ~4 (CRM1TR) and ~1 (CRM4TR) million years ago. Distinct CRM1TR sequence variants occupy the two CRM1TR loci, indicating that there is little or no movement of repeats between loci, even though they are separated by only ~1.4 Mb.


The discovery of two novel retrotransposon derived tandem repeats supports the conclusions from earlier studies that retrotransposons can give rise to tandem repeats in eukaryotic genomes. Analysis of monomers from two different CRM1TR loci shows that gene conversion is the major cause of sequence variation. We propose that successive intrastrand deletions generated the initial repeat structure, and gene conversions increased the size of each tandem repeat locus.

Centromere; Centromeric retrotransposon; Gene conversion; Homogenization; Recombination; Tandem repeat; Satellite