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Open Access Research article

Survey of extrachromosomal circular DNA derived from plant satellite repeats

Alice Navrátilová, Andrea Koblížková and Jiří Macas*

Author Affiliations

Biology Centre ASCR, Institute of Plant Molecular Biology, Branišovská 31, České Budějovice, CZ-37005, Czech Republic

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BMC Plant Biology 2008, 8:90  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-8-90

Published: 22 August 2008



Satellite repeats represent one of the most dynamic components of higher plant genomes, undergoing rapid evolutionary changes of their nucleotide sequences and abundance in a genome. However, the exact molecular mechanisms driving these changes and their eventual regulation are mostly unknown. It has been proposed that amplification and homogenization of satellite DNA could be facilitated by extrachromosomal circular DNA (eccDNA) molecules originated by recombination-based excision from satellite repeat arrays. While the models including eccDNA are attractive for their potential to explain rapid turnover of satellite DNA, the existence of satellite repeat-derived eccDNA has not yet been systematically studied in a wider range of plant genomes.


We performed a survey of eccDNA corresponding to nine different families and three subfamilies of satellite repeats in ten species from various genera of higher plants (Arabidopsis, Oryza, Pisum, Secale, Triticum and Vicia). The repeats selected for this study differed in their monomer length, abundance, and chromosomal localization in individual species. Using two-dimensional agarose gel electrophoresis followed by Southern blotting, eccDNA molecules corresponding to all examined satellites were detected. EccDNA occurred in the form of nicked circles ranging from hundreds to over eight thousand nucleotides in size. Within this range the circular molecules occurred preferentially in discrete size intervals corresponding to multiples of monomer or higher-order repeat lengths.


This work demonstrated that satellite repeat-derived eccDNA is common in plant genomes and thus it can be seriously considered as a potential intermediate in processes driving satellite repeat evolution. The observed size distribution of circular molecules suggests that they are most likely generated by molecular mechanisms based on homologous recombination requiring long stretches of sequence similarity.