Whats, hows and whys of programmed DNA elimination in Tetrahymena

Open Biol. 2017 Oct;7(10):170172. doi: 10.1098/rsob.170172.


Programmed genome rearrangements in ciliates provide fascinating examples of flexible epigenetic genome regulations and important insights into the interaction between transposable elements (TEs) and host genomes. DNA elimination in Tetrahymena thermophila removes approximately 12 000 internal eliminated sequences (IESs), which correspond to one-third of the genome, when the somatic macronucleus (MAC) differentiates from the germline micronucleus (MIC). More than half of the IESs, many of which show high similarity to TEs, are targeted for elimination in cis by the small RNA-mediated genome comparison of the MIC to the MAC. Other IESs are targeted for elimination in trans by the same small RNAs through repetitive sequences. Furthermore, the small RNA-heterochromatin feedback loop ensures robust DNA elimination. Here, we review an updated picture of the DNA elimination mechanism, discuss the physiological and evolutionary roles of DNA elimination, and outline the key questions that remain unanswered.

Keywords: DNA elimination; RNAi; Tetrahymena; epigenetics; transposon.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Protozoan*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Rearrangement*
  • Genome, Protozoan*
  • RNA, Small Untranslated / genetics
  • Tetrahymena / genetics*


  • DNA, Protozoan
  • RNA, Small Untranslated