High-frequency recombination between members of an LTR retrotransposon family during transposition bursts.

16 Jan 2018

Retrotransposons containing long terminal repeats (LTRs) form a substantial fraction of eukaryotic genomes. The timing of past transposition can be estimated by quantifying the accumulation of mutations in initially identical LTRs. This way, retrotransposons are divided into young, potentially mobile elements, and old that moved thousands or even millions of years ago. Both types are found within a single retrotransposon family and it is assumed that the old members will remain immobile and degenerate further. Here, we provide evidence in Arabidopsis that old members enter into replication/transposition cycles through high rates of intra-family recombination. The recombination occurs pairwise, resembling the formation of recombinant retroviruses. Thus, each transposition burst generates a novel progeny population of chromosomally integrated LTR retrotransposons consisting of pairwise recombination products produced in a process comparable the sexual exchange of genetic information. Our observations provide an explanation for the reported high rates of sequence diversification in retrotransposons.