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Circularized Ac/Ds Transposons: Formation, Structure and Fate

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The maize Ac/Ds transposable elements are thought to transpose via a cut-and-paste mechanism, but the intermediates formed during transposition are still unknown. In this work we present evidence that circular Ac molecules are formed in plants containing actively transposing elements. In these circles, transposon ends are joined head-to-head. The sequence at the ends' junction is variable, containing small deletions or insertions. Circles containing deleted Ac ends are probably unable to successfully reintegrate. To test the ability of circles with intact transposon ends to integrate into the genome, an artificial Ds circle was constructed by cloning the joined ends of Ac into a plasmid carrying a plant selectable marker. When such a circular Ds was introduced into tobacco protoplasts in the presence of Ac-transposase, no efficient transposase-mediated integration was observed. Although a circular transposition intermediate cannot be ruled out, the findings of circles with deleted transposon ends and the absence of transposase-mediated integration of the circular Ds suggest that some of the joined-ends-carrying elements are not transposition intermediates, but rather abortive excision products. The formation of Ac circles might account for the previously described phenomenon of Ac-loss. The origin of Ac circles and the implications for models of Ac transposition are discussed.

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