Athila4 of Arabidopsis and Calypso of soybean define a lineage of endogenous plant retroviruses

David A. Wright, Daniel F. Voytas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


The Athila retroelements of Arabidopsis thaliana encode a putative envelope gene, suggesting that they are infectious retroviruses. Because most insertions are highly degenerate, we undertook a comprehensive analysis of the A. thaliana genome sequence to discern their conserved features. One family (Athila4) was identified whose members are largely intact and share >94% nucleotide identity. As a basis for comparison, related elements (the Calypso elements) were characterized from soybean. Consensus Calypso and Athila4 elements are 12-14 kb in length and have long terminal repeats of 1.3-1.8 kb. Gag and Pol are encoded on a single open reading frame (ORF) of 1801 (Calypso) and 1911 (Athila4) amino acids. Following the Gag-Pol ORF are noncoding regions of ∼0.7 and 2 kb, which, respectively, flank the env-like gene. The env-like ORF begins with a putative splice acceptor site and encodes a protein with a predicted central transmembrane domain, similar to retroviral env genes. RNA of Athila elements was detected in an A. thaliana strain with decreased DNA methylation (ddml). Additionally, a PCR survey identified related reverse transcriptases in diverse angiosperm genomes. Their ubiquitous nature and the potential for horizontal transfer by infection implicates these endogenous retroviruses as important vehicles for plant genome evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-131
Number of pages10
JournalGenome research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


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