Ty1-copia elements reveal diverse insertion sites linked to polymorphisms among flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) accessions

BMC Genomics. 2016 Dec 7;17(1):1002. doi: 10.1186/s12864-016-3337-3.


Background: Initial characterization of the flax genome showed that Ty1-copia retrotransposons are abundant, with several members being recently inserted, and in close association with genes. Recent insertions indicate a potential for ongoing transpositional activity that can create genomic diversity among accessions, cultivars or varieties. The polymorphisms generated constitute a good source of molecular markers that may be associated with phenotype if the insertions alter gene activity. Flax, where accessions are bred mainly for seed nutritional properties or for fibers, constitutes a good model for studying the relationship of transpositional activity with diversification and breeding. In this study, we estimated copy number and used a type of transposon display known as Sequence-Specific Amplification Polymorphisms (SSAPs), to characterize six families of Ty1-copia elements across 14 flax accessions. Polymorphic insertion sites were sequenced to find insertions that could potentially alter gene expression, and a preliminary test was performed with selected genes bearing transposable element (TE) insertions.

Results: Quantification of six families of Ty1-copia elements indicated different abundances among TE families and between flax accessions, which suggested diverse transpositional histories. SSAPs showed a high level of polymorphism in most of the evaluated retrotransposon families, with a trend towards higher levels of polymorphism in low-copy number families. Ty1-copia insertion polymorphisms among cultivars allowed a general distinction between oil and fiber types, and between spring and winter types, demonstrating their utility in diversity studies. Characterization of polymorphic insertions revealed an overwhelming association with genes, with insertions disrupting exons, introns or within 1 kb of coding regions. A preliminary test on the potential transcriptional disruption by TEs of four selected genes evaluated in three different tissues, showed one case of significant impact of the insertion on gene expression.

Conclusions: We demonstrated that specific Ty1-copia families have been active since breeding commenced in flax. The retrotransposon-derived polymorphism can be used to separate flax types, and the close association of many insertions with genes defines a good source of potential mutations that could be associated with phenotypic changes, resulting in diversification processes.

Keywords: Cultivars; Flax; Sequence-Specific Amplification Polymorphism (SSAP); Transposable elements; Ty1-copia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computational Biology / methods
  • DNA Copy Number Variations
  • Flax / genetics*
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Ontology
  • Genetic Loci
  • Genome, Plant
  • Genomics / methods
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Retroelements*


  • Retroelements