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Letter
Nature Genetics  37, 641 - 644 (2005)
Published online: 22 May 2005; | doi:10.1038/ng1576

Heritable transposon silencing initiated by a naturally occurring transposon inverted duplication

R Keith Slotkin, Michael Freeling & Damon Lisch

Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, 111 Koshland Hall, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.

Correspondence should be addressed to Damon Lisch dlisch@uclink.berkeley.edu
It has been suggested that gene silencing evolved as a defense against genomic parasites such as transposons1. This idea is based on analysis of mutations that reactivate transposons that are stably silenced2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9: they affect maintenance rather than initiation of silencing. Here we describe the cloning and characterization of a naturally occurring locus able to heritably silence the otherwise highly active MuDR transposon in maize. This locus, Mu killer (Muk), results from the inverted duplication of a partially deleted autonomous MuDR element located at the breakpoint of a genomic deletion. Muk produces a hybrid hairpin transcript that is processed into small RNAs, which are amplified when the target MuDR transcript is present. Muk provides the first example of a naturally occurring transposon derivative capable of initiating the heritable silencing of an active transposon family. Further, transposon-generated inverted duplications may be important for the generation of double-stranded RNAs used in gene silencing.


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Nature Genetics
ISSN: 1061-4036
EISSN: 1546-1718
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