Richardson, Aaron O. Department of Plant Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.
Last reviewed:August 2019
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Genetic elements capable of moving to a new chromosomal location, either directly as DNA in the case of DNA transposons or through an RNA intermediate in the case of retrotransposons. Transposable elements are mobile genetic elements and are capable of moving from one position to another in the genome (Fig. 1). Depending on the exact mechanism, transposable elements can change positions within the same chromosome or they can move to a different chromosome. Transposable elements are found in almost all genomes so far examined, including those of animals, plants, fungi, protists, and bacteria; in some cases, they can occupy the majority of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of an organism (for example, more than 80% of the maize genome). They were first discovered by Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock in the 1940s as part of her work on the genetics of corn. Transposable elements are very diverse, including tens of thousands of described families and certainly many more still to be discovered. Some transposable elements are present in hundreds of thousands of copies per genome, whereas others persist in a single copy; the elements themselves range in length from less than 100 nucleotides to more than 10,000. See also: Chromosome; Corn; Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA); Genetics; Genomics; Nucleotide; Ribonucleic acid (RNA); Transposable elements in plants
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