Sireviruses are one of the three genera of Copia long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons, exclusive to and highly abundant in plants, and with a unique, among retrotransposons, genome structure. Yet, perhaps due to the few references to the Sirevirus origin of some families, compounded by the difficulty in correctly assigning retrotransposon families into genera, Sireviruses have hardly featured in recent research. As a result, analysis at this key level of classification and details of their colonization and impact on plant genomes are currently lacking. Recently, however, it became possible to accurately assign elements from diverse families to this genus in one step, based on highly conserved sequence motifs. Hence, Sirevirus dynamics in the relatively obese maize genome can now be comprehensively studied. Overall, we identified >10 600 intact and approximately 28 000 degenerate Sirevirus elements from a plethora of families, some brought into the genus for the first time. Sireviruses make up approximately 90% of the Copia population and it is the only genus that has successfully infiltrated the genome, possibly by experiencing intense amplification during the last 600 000 years, while being constantly recycled by host mechanisms. They accumulate in chromosome-distal gene-rich areas, where they insert in between gene islands, mainly in preferred zones within their own genomes. Sirevirus LTRs are heavily methylated, while there is evidence for a palindromic consensus target sequence. This work brings Sireviruses in the spotlight, elucidating their lifestyle and history, and suggesting their crucial role in the current genomic make-up of maize, and possibly other plant hosts.
© 2011 INA/CERTH. The Plant Journal © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.