Hitching a Ride: Nonautonomous Retrotransposons and Parasitism as a Lifestyle

  • Alan H. Schulman
Part of the Topics in Current Genetics book series (TCG, volume 24)


Large genomes in plants are composed primarily of long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons, which replicate and propagate by a “copy-and-paste” mechanism dependent on enzymes encoded by the retrotransposons themselves. The enzymes direct a life cycle involving transcription, translation, packaging, reverse transcription, and integration. Loss of any coding capacity will render a retrotransposon incapable of completing its life cycle autonomously. Nevertheless, retrotransposons lacking complete open reading frames for one or more of their proteins are abundant in the genome. These nonautonomous retrotransposons can, however, be complemented in trans by proteins expressed by another retrotransposon, restoring mobility. It is sufficient for a nonautonomous LTR retrotransposon to retain the signals needed for recognition by the transcription machinery and the proteins of autonomous elements. The degree to which nonautonomous retrotransposons interfere with the propagation of autonomous elements has major evolutionary consequences for the genome, affecting the relative rate of gain versus loss of retrotransposons and thereby genome size.


Retrotransposon Replication Integration Reverse transcription Genome dynamics 



Research on which this review is based was carried out under a grant from the Academy of Finland, Decision 123074.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of BiotechnologyUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Biotechnology and Food Research, MTT Agrifood ResearchJokioinenFinland

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