Transposon domestication versus mutualism in ciliate genome rearrangements

PLoS Genet. 2013;9(8):e1003659. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003659. Epub 2013 Aug 1.


Ciliated protists rearrange their genomes dramatically during nuclear development via chromosome fragmentation and DNA deletion to produce a trimmer and highly reorganized somatic genome. The deleted portion of the genome includes potentially active transposons or transposon-like sequences that reside in the germline. Three independent studies recently showed that transposase proteins of the DDE/DDD superfamily are indispensible for DNA processing in three distantly related ciliates. In the spirotrich Oxytricha trifallax, high copy-number germline-limited transposons mediate their own excision from the somatic genome but also contribute to programmed genome rearrangement through a remarkable transposon mutualism with the host. By contrast, the genomes of two oligohymenophorean ciliates, Tetrahymena thermophila and Paramecium tetraurelia, encode homologous PiggyBac-like transposases as single-copy genes in both their germline and somatic genomes. These domesticated transposases are essential for deletion of thousands of different internal sequences in these species. This review contrasts the events underlying somatic genome reduction in three different ciliates and considers their evolutionary origins and the relationships among their distinct mechanisms for genome remodeling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Protozoan*
  • Germ Cells
  • Oxytricha / genetics*
  • Paramecium tetraurelia / genetics
  • Sequence Deletion / genetics
  • Symbiosis / genetics*
  • Tetrahymena / genetics
  • Transposases / genetics


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • DNA, Protozoan
  • Transposases