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The battle against junk DNA for genetic stability

Junk DNA is present in large amounts in genomes. As such its activity has to be suppressed in development to prevent deadly mutations.
The battle against junk DNA for genetic stability
The EU-funded TRANSTEARA (Determining the role of gamete small RNAs in propagating the trans-generational epigenetic silencing of transposable elements) project has investigated the epigenetic suppression of transposable elements (TEs) in pollen grains, the embryo and the endosperm of plants. Control of transcription is largely due to epigenetically activated small interfering RNAs (easiRNAs).

Using a range of molecular and cell biology techniques, the researchers looked at where and how silencing takes place. In particular, they looked at mechanisms that facilitate the suppressed expression of TEs.

Results showed that TE silencing takes place in the vegetative nucleus (VN), pollen sperm cells (SCs) and post-fertilisation tissue, the embryo and the endosperm. To make this possible, anti-TE secondary siRNAs can move from nurse cells to their SCs.

Giving further inhibition and control, the male-derived TE siRNAs influence the development of the seed and genomic imprinting linked with the TEs. Results of genome-wide analysis of several sRNAs and cytosine methylation in pollen grain and seeds are being analysed post-project for future publication.

Work on the movement of RNA has already appeared in Nature. Further significant dissemination occurred during workshops and two symposia.

TRANSTEARA research will help to develop tools to improve genetic stability of crops and hybrid compatibility for plant breeding. Junk DNA and TEs are common to all life forms and increased knowledge at a basic level could address the carcinogenic potential in humans for example.

Related information


Life Sciences


Junk DNA, genetic stability, mutations, TRANSTEARA, transposable elements
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