DNA replication in eukaryotes initiates at specific sites known as origins of replication, or replicators. These replication origins occur throughout the genome, though the propensity of their occurrence depends on the type of organism. In eukaryotes, zones of initiation of replication spanning from about 100 to 50,000 base pairs have been reported. The characteristics of eukaryotic replication origins are best understood in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, where some autonomously replicating sequences, or ARS elements, confer origin activity. ARS elements are short DNA sequences of a few hundred base pairs, identified by their efficiency at initiating a replication event when cloned in a plasmid. ARS elements, although structurally diverse, maintain a basic structure composed of three domains, A, B and C. Domain A is comprised of a consensus sequence designated ACS (ARS consensus sequence), while the B domain has the DNA unwinding element and the C domain is important for DNA-protein interactions. Although there are ∼400 ARS elements in the yeast genome, not all of them are active origins of replication. Different groups within the genus Saccharomyces have ARS elements as components of replication origin. The present paper provides a comprehensive review of various aspects of ARSs, starting from their structural conservation to sequence thermodynamics. All significant and conserved functional sequence motifs within different types of ARS elements have been extensively described. Issues like silencing at ARSs, their inherent fragility and factors governing their replication efficiency have also been addressed. Progress in understanding crucial components associated with the replication machinery and timing at these ARS elements is discussed in the section entitled "The replicon revisited".
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