Coyne RS, Lhuillier-Akakpo M, Duharcourt S
RNA-guided DNA Rearrangements In Ciliates: Is the Best Genome Defence a Good Offence?
Biology of the Cell / Under the Auspices of the European Cell Biology Organization. 2012 Jun 01; 104: 309-25.
Genomes, like crazy patchwork quilts, are stitched together over evolutionary time from diverse elements, including some unwelcome invaders. To deal with parasitic mobile elements, most eukaryotes employ a genome self-defensive manoeuvre to recognise and silence such elements by homology-dependent interactions with RNA-protein complexes that alter chromatin. Ciliated protozoa employ more 'offensive' tactics by actually unstitching and reassembling their somatic genomes at every sexual generation to eliminate transposons and their remnants, using as patterns the maternal genomes that were rearranged in the previous cycle. Genetic and genomic studies of the distant relatives Paramecium and Tetrahymena have begun to reveal how such events are carried out with remarkable precision. Whole genome, non-coding transcripts from the maternal genome are compared with transcripts from the zygotic genome that are processed through an RNA interference (RNAi)-related process. Sequences found only in the latter are targeted for elimination by the resulting short 'scanRNAs' in many thousand DNA splicing reactions initiated by a domesticated transposase. The involvement of widely conserved mechanisms and protein factors clearly shows the relatedness of these phenomena to RNAi-mediated heterochromatic gene silencing. Such malleability of the genome on a generational time scale also has profound evolutionary implications, possibly including the epigenetic inheritance of acquired adaptive traits.