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Classes of mobile elements

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Classes of mobile elements
DNA transposons (e.g., Tc-1-mariner) have inverted terminal inverted repeats (ITRs) and a single open reading frame (ORF) that encodes a transposase. They are flanked by short direct repeats (DRs). Retrotransposons are divided into autonomous and nonautonomous classes depending on whether they have ORFs that encode proteins required for retrotransposition. Common autonomous retrotransposons are (i) LTRs or (ii) non-LTRs. Examples of LTR retrotransposons are human endogenous retroviruses (HERV) (shown) and various Ty elements of S. cerevisiae (not shown). These elements have terminal LTRs and slightly overlapping ORFs for their group-specific antigen (gag), protease (prt), polymerase (pol), and envelope (env) genes. They produce target site duplications (TSDs) upon insertion. Also shown are the reverse transcriptase (RT) and endonuclease (EN) domains. Other LTR retrotransposons that are responsible for most mobile-element insertions in mice are the intracisternal A-particles (IAPs), early transposons (Etns), and mammalian LTR-retrotransposons (MaLRs). These elements are not present in humans, and essentially all are defective, so the source of their RT in trans remains unknown. L1 is an example of a non-LTR retrotransposon. L1s consist of a 5'-untranslated region (5' UTR) containing an internal promoter, two ORFs, a 3' UTR, and a poly(A) signal followed by a poly(A) tail (An). L1s are usually flanked by 7- to 20-bp target site duplications (TSDs). The RT, EN, and a conserved cysteine-rich domain (C) are shown. An Alu element is an example of a nonautonomous retrotransposon. Alus contain two similar monomers, the left (L) and the right (R), and end in a poly(A) tail. Approximate full-length element sizes are given in parentheses.

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Transposable elements, or "jumping genes", were first identified by Barbara McClintock more than 50 years ago. Why are transposons so common in eukaryotes, and exactly what do they do?


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