Date of this Version
Genes-Genomes-Genetics Volume 9 549-559
Plant mitochondrial genomes have excessive size relative to coding capacity, a low mutation rate in genes and a high rearrangement rate. They also have abundant non-tandem repeats often including pairs of large repeats which cause isomerization of the genome by recombination, and numerous repeats of up to several hundred base pairs that recombine only when the genome is stressed by DNA damaging agents or mutations in DNA repair pathway genes. Early work on mitochondrial genomes led to the suggestion that repeats in the size range from several hundred to a few thousand base pair are underrepresented. The repeats themselves are not well-conserved between species, and are not always annotated in mitochondrial sequence assemblies. We systematically identified and compared these repeats, which are important clues to mechanisms of DNA maintenance in mitochondria. We developed a tool to find and curate non-tandem repeats larger than 50bp and analyzed the complete mitochondrial sequences from 157 plant species. We observed an interesting difference between taxa: the repeats are larger and more frequent in the vascular plants. Analysis of closely related species also shows that plant mitochondrial genomes evolve in dramatic bursts of breakage and rejoining, complete with DNA sequence gain and loss. We suggest an adaptive explanation for the existence of the repeats and their evolution.