In the ciliated protozoan Tetrahymena thermophila, extensive DNA elimination is associated with differentiation of the somatic macronucleus from the germline micronucleus. This study describes the isolation and complete characterization of Tlr elements, a family of approximately 30 micronuclear DNA sequences that are efficiently eliminated from the developing macronucleus. The data indicate that Tlr elements are comprised of an ∼22 kb internal region flanked by complex and variable termini. The Tlr internal region is highly conserved among family members and contains 15 open reading frames, some of which resemble genes encoded by transposons and viruses. The Tlr termini appear to be long inverted repeats consisting of (i) a variable region containing multiple direct repeats which differ in number and sequence from element to element and (ii) a conserved terminal 47 bp sequence. Taken together, these results suggest that Tlr elements comprise a novel family of mobile genetic elements that are confined to the Tetrahymena germline genome. Possible mechanisms of developmentally programmed Tlr elimination are discussed
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