Plant Transposable Elements


Transposable elements (TEs) were first discovered by Barbara McClintock in maize. As the most abundant and dynamic component of the plant genomes, the activity of TEs is responsible for genome size expansion, alteration of gene expression, duplication and amplification of normal genes. There are many different types of elements in the plant genomes, with each of them occupying a specific niche, including genic regions, intergenic regions and centromeres. Particularly, the centromereā€specific elements may play critical roles in the formation of new plant species. Most TEs are quiescent in normal development but are turned on by various biotic or abiotic stresses, thus favouring the survival of host organisms under undesirable conditions. In addition to their roles in genome evolution, TEs can be useful tools for gene cloning, mapping and transformation.

Key Concepts

  • Transposable elements are the largest components of plant genomes.
  • They have target specificity.
  • Transposable elements play roles in speciation.
  • Transposition activity is tightly regulated.
  • Transposable elements influence expression of other genes.
  • They are genetic and molecular tools.

Keywords: transposable elements; target selection; transposition; gene expression; gene duplication; genome expansion

Figure 1. Structural diagram of different types of transposable elements in plants. Long terminal repeat (LTR) or terminal inverted repeats (TIRs) are depicted as black triangles. Coloured boxes represent coding regions in autonomous elements and other sequences are depicted as black lines. Target site duplications (TSDs) are depicted as small black arrows flanking elements.
Figure 2. The genome size, number of genes and fraction of transposable elements in diploid grass species.


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Further Reading

Keller EF (1984) A Feeling for the Organism, 10th Aniversary Edition: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. Times Books.

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Jiang, Ning(Jul 2016) Plant Transposable Elements. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023753]