Jittery, a Mutator distant relative with a paradoxical mobile behavior: Excision without reinsertion

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The unstable mutation bz-m039 arose in a maize (Zea mays) stock that originated from a plant infected with barley stripe mosaic virus. The instability of the mutation is caused by a 3.9-kb mobile element that has been named Jittery (Jit). Jit has terminal inverted repeats (TIRs) of 181 bp, causes a 9-bp direct duplication of the target site, and appears to excise autonomously. It is predicted to encode a single 709-amino acid protein, JITA, which is distantly related to the MURA transposase protein of the Mutator system but is more closely related to the MURA protein of Mutator-like elements (MULEs) from Arabidopsis thaliana and rice (Oryza sativa). Like MULEs, Jit resembles Mutator in the length of the element's TIRs, the size of the target site duplication, and in the makeup of its transposase but differs from the autonomous element Mutator-Don Robertson in that it encodes a single protein. Jit also differs from Mutator elements in the high frequency with which it excises to produce germinal revertants and in its copy number in the maize genome: Jit-like TIRs are present at low copy number in all maize lines and teosinte accessions examined, and JITA sequences occur in only a few maize inbreds. However, Jit cannot be considered a bona fide transposon in its present host line because it does not leave footprints upon excision and does not reinsert in the genome. These unusual mobile element properties are discussed in light of the structure and gene organization of Jit and related elements.

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Plant Cell