Long terminal repeat-retrotransposons (LTR-RTs) are the most abundant class of transposable elements (TEs) in plants. They strongly impact the structure, function, and evolution of their host genome, and, in particular, their role in genome size variation has been clearly established. However, the dynamics of the process through which LTR-RTs have differentially shaped plant genomes is still poorly understood because of a lack of comparative studies. Using a new robust and automated family classification procedure, we exhaustively characterized the LTR-RTs in eight plant genomes for which a high-quality sequence is available (i.e., Arabidopsis thaliana, A. lyrata, grapevine, soybean, rice, Brachypodium dystachion, sorghum, and maize). This allowed us to perform a comparative genome-wide study of the retrotranspositional landscape in these eight plant lineages from both monocots and dicots. We show that retrotransposition has recurrently occurred in all plant genomes investigated, regardless their size, and through bursts, rather than a continuous process. Moreover, in each genome, only one or few LTR-RT families have been active in the recent past, and the difference in genome size among the species studied could thus mostly be accounted for by the extent of the latest transpositional burst(s). Following these bursts, LTR-RTs are efficiently eliminated from their host genomes through recombination and deletion, but we show that the removal rate is not lineage specific. These new findings lead us to propose a new model of TE-driven genome evolution in plants.
Via Francis Martin