Horizontal transfer of a plant transposon

PLoS Biol. 2006 Jan;4(1):e5. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0040005.


The majority of well-documented cases of horizontal transfer between higher eukaryotes involve the movement of transposable elements between animals. Surprisingly, although plant genomes often contain vast numbers of these mobile genetic elements, no evidence of horizontal transfer of a nuclear-encoded transposon between plant species has been detected to date. The most mutagenic known plant transposable element system is the Mutator system in maize. Mu-like elements (MULEs) are widespread among plants, and previous analysis has suggested that the distribution of various subgroups of MULEs is patchy, consistent with horizontal transfer. We have sequenced portions of MULE transposons from a number of species of the genus Setaria and compared them to each other and to publicly available databases. A subset of these elements is remarkably similar to a small family of MULEs in rice. A comparison of noncoding and synonymous sequences revealed that the observed similarity is not due to selection at the amino acid level. Given the amount of time separating Setaria and rice, the degree of similarity between these elements excludes the possibility of simple vertical transmission of this class of MULEs. This is the first well-documented example of horizontal transfer of any nuclear-encoded genes between higher plants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Introns / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Oryza / genetics
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Setaria Plant / genetics*
  • Zea mays / genetics


  • DNA Transposable Elements

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AB089141
  • GENBANK/AC093493
  • GENBANK/AF342959
  • GENBANK/AF515483
  • GENBANK/AK067136
  • GENBANK/AP001072
  • GENBANK/AP003408
  • GENBANK/AW067488
  • GENBANK/AY219174
  • GENBANK/AY266141
  • GENBANK/CG270890
  • GENBANK/CL970142
  • GENBANK/CW076632
  • GENBANK/DQ287976
  • RefSeq/NM_196052