Retrotransposons: Metaparasites and agents of genome evolution

François Sabot, Ruslan Kalendar, Marko Jääskeläinen, Chang Wei, Jaakko Tanskanen, Alan H. Schulman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Transposable elements comprise the bulk of higher plant genomes. The majority of these elements are the Class I LTR retrotransposons, which transpose via an RNA intermediate in a "Copy-and-Paste" mechanism. Because retrotransposons use cellular resources and their own enzymes to replicate independently of the genome as a whole, and have thereby become in many cases more predominant than the cellular genes, they have been considered "selfish DNA" and nuclear parasites. They are thought to share many features of the internal life cycle of retroviruses such as HIV (lentiviruses). However, whereas at least some of the retroviruses arriving in an organism during an infection must be functional in order for the infection to proceed, some LTR retrotransposon families appear to completely lack active members even though they remain mobile. Furthermore, the process of retrotransposition is inherently error-prone and mutagenic, giving rise to "pseudospecies," or clusters of imperfect copies. The non-autonomous retrotransposons are able to cis- and trans-parasitize host retrotransposons to gain mobility, much as do defective interfering particles of RNA viruses. Hence, a complex dynamic is set up, whereby the impact of retrotransposons on genomes can be under selection on the organismal level; the impact of non-autonomous retrotransposons on autonomous ones can likewise be under selection if there is selection on the autonomous elements themselves. We are exploring the retrotransposon life cycle and the causes and possible consequences of non-autonomy at each stage regarding genome evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-330
Number of pages12
JournalIsrael Journal of Ecology and Evolution
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Genome evolution
  • Insertional mutagenesis
  • Life cycle
  • LTR retrotransposon
  • Non-autonomy
  • Parasitism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Retrotransposons: Metaparasites and agents of genome evolution'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this