Background: The nonautonomous maize Ds transposons can only move in the presence of the autonomous element Ac. They comprise a heterogeneous group that share 11-bp terminal inverted repeats (TIRs) and some subterminal repeats, but vary greatly in size and composition. Three classes of Ds elements can cause mutations: Ds-del, internal deletions of the 4.6-kb Ac element; Ds1, ~400-bp in size and sharing little homology with Ac, and Ds2, variably-sized elements containing about 0.5 kb from the Ac termini and unrelated internal sequences. Here, we analyze the entire complement of Ds-related sequences in the genome of the inbred B73 and ask whether additional classes of Ds-like (Ds-l) elements, not uncovered genetically, are mobilized by Ac. We also compare the makeup of Ds-related sequences in two maize inbreds of different origin.
Results: We found 903 elements with 11-bp Ac/Ds TIRs flanked by 8-bp target site duplications. Three resemble Ac, but carry small rearrangements. The others are much shorter, once extraneous insertions are removed. There are 331 Ds1 and 39 Ds2 elements, many of which are likely mobilized by Ac, and two novel classes of Ds-l elements. Ds-l3 elements lack subterminal homology with Ac, but carry transposase gene fragments, and represent decaying Ac elements. There are 44 such elements in B73. Ds-l4 elements share little similarity with Ac outside of the 11-bp TIR, have a modal length of ~1 kb, and carry filler DNA which, in a few cases, could be matched to gene fragments. Most Ds-related elements in B73 (486/903) fall in this class. None of the Ds-l elements tested responded to Ac. Only half of Ds insertion sites examined are shared between the inbreds B73 and W22.
Conclusions: The majority of Ds-related sequences in maize correspond to Ds-l elements that do not transpose in the presence of Ac. Unlike actively transposing elements, many Ds-l elements are inserted in repetitive DNA, where they probably become methylated and begin to decay. The filler DNA present in most elements is occasionally captured from genes, a rare feature in transposons of the hAT superfamily to which Ds belongs. Maize inbreds of different origin are highly polymorphic in their DNA transposon makeup.